As I mentioned in my last post from this section in May, I've been making some mental adjustments to my 'reimagined history' of Streep's screen career. Having initially felt confident in its inclusions and exclusions, I've begun realizing that the list of projects I would have loved for her to do is a bit more malleable than I had originally expected to consider. With that in mind, I've selected another film that never actually got made for my newest Shoulda Coulda Woulda.
In 1997, Jacki Lyden, who at the time was a correspondent at NPR, published a memoir about her life growing up in the small town of Menomonee, WI and her relationship with her mentally-ill mother Dolores. The book, entitled Daughter of the Queen of Sheba, was quickly a critical success, and within a month Meryl was revealed to be attached to play Dolores. Obviously, the film has never made it to the screen, but after doing some research, I've learned that it came close several times.
Very little happened immediately after the initial announcement until 2001 when Gwyneth Paltrow signed on to portray Jacki. Matt Williams was attached to direct, and Karen Croner (who penned One True Thing) adapted the screenplay. Still, nothing moved forward. Over the next several years, Reese Witherspoon and Amy Adams were both attached to star as well, but again, nothing. Lyden discussed the difficulties of getting her story to the big screen as recently as 2009 (when Adams was set to portray her), and how she was still pushing to get it made. Meryl's involvement was likely long forgotten by that point, but the powerful story remains an unfortunate missed opportunity.
I finished the book last week and was repeatedly left shaking my head at how interesting it would have been to see Meryl's interpretation of Dolores in the throes of her debilitating bipolar delusions. She is described as a beautiful, trim redhead, raised with few opportunities to forge her own path. It reminded me a bit of Violet Weston (again likely borderline supporting), just not as mean. Can you imagine Meryl at the age of 51 appearing on screen channeling an eccentric Rita Hayworth? Read this book and you just might.
I would insert this film into 2001 and push Adaptation back to its original year of 2002. A fall 2000 filming schedule seems reasonable, assuming Meryl would've been cool not having the break she enjoyed in that year. Most people probably consider her three-year hiatus between movies from '99-'02 as a particularly long absence, but we need to remember that Music of the Heart wrapped in early 1999 and both Adaptation and The Hours were filmed in early 2001. There were a handful of projects that never came to fruition during that time (Mary Stuart and Sheba notably), so assuming everything had come together within a few years of its announcement, 2001 seems just as good a year as any. I've also struggled a bit with moving one of Meryl's Academy Award-nominated performance from its original release year (Adaptation), a problem solved by this substitution.
Who knows, maybe Ms. Lyden will still somehow manage to get it made.