Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Film review: "The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)

Following Meryl's Oscar-winning turn in 1979's Kramer vs Kramer, she apparently told either her manager or publicist to find something really juicy for her. Up to that point, Streep had enjoyed only supporting roles in film, so Karel Reisz's filming of the 1969 novel The French Lieutenant's Woman (John Fowles) became the perfect project for her debut as a leading lady.

The film, like many others, had apparently taken years of rewrites and had to overcome multiple financial obstacles to reach the screen. When it finally got the green light, Meryl was cast along with British actor Jeremy Irons for the dual lead roles of Sarah/Anna and Charles/Mike.

I imagine that one of the draws for Meryl at the time was that the screenplay sort of followed a story within a story. Anna is a film actress having an affair with her co-star, Mike. The film they're working on involves two people involved in a scandalous relationship in Victorian England. In the Victorian sequences, Sarah Woodruff finds herself out of a job as her employer has died. Woodruff has a reputation for having had a previous affair with a French Lieutenant, and as such has become sort of an outcast. Charles, a paleontologist, falls for Sarah, despite his own engagement to another woman.

Charles breaks off his engagement only to discover that Sarah has disappeared. Simultaneously, Anna struggles with how to negotiate her affair with Mike, as she's currently already married to someone else. Sarah has a new job as a governess and eventually writes to Charles. The two sort of reconcile and are seen at the close of the film ending up together. Anna and Mike don't seem to fare as well, as Anna leaves from the film's wrap party with her husband without saying goodbye to Mike.

Whew. It gets a bit tricky delineating the two storylines, and I've give a fairly basic recap of the plot. I struggle to compile my thoughts on how to describe my views on this film. I often tend to approach Meryl's film choices and performances from a perspective of how tickled I am by something new she does, or how unexpected or difficult I imagine the role to be. Meryl herself has been on record that's she's not particularly fond of this performance. Looking back, she apparently found that she never quite knew if she was succeeding at the role. "Was I just the French lieutenant's woman? Or the actress being the French lieutenant's woman? Or the actress being the actress being the French lieutenant's woman?" That question is an interesting one and therefore appealing to me as a viewer and fan.

I suppose we'll never know for sure to what extent any sense of holding back or perhaps what many have criticized as a certain "rigidity" in Meryl's performance as Sarah was her interpretation of Sarah, or her interpretation of how Anna would interpret Sarah. Is that even possible to know? If anyone could figure it out I suspect Meryl at least went into it with some idea. I watched the movie this past weekend with my husband, Joe (who somehow had never been forced to watch it with me before), and he made the comment about how we perhaps get a glimpse into Meryl's magic when she's rehearsing a scene in the film (as Anna) and we see her sort of transform into Sarah. If we want to be convinced of Sarah as a character, I have to think that Meryl made the choice of breathing life into Sarah as well as Meryl the actor could do. Are we to assume that the actress Anna is as good of an actress as Meryl? Would Meryl dare act less well as Sarah because Meryl thought maybe Anna would not be quite as good an actor as Meryl was herself? That's where my brain kind of goes sideways.

Just having to figure that out as an actor is pretty impressive to me. Frankly, it's the only real interesting thing I found in rewatching this. It's pace is incredibly slow. And although it tackles themes of female oppression in Victorian England, I often found myself easily to drifting off into other thoughts.

The film was actually well received by critics groups. It had five Oscar nominations and a staggering eleven BAFTA noms. Meryl won Lead Actress in a Drama at the Golden Globes, as well as for BAFTA. She was the front-runner for the Oscar as well (her first lead nod), but ultimately lost to Katharine Hepburn, who took her record-breaking fourth statuette for her performance in On Golden Pond. Interestingly, having written this post, it's the first time I really considered how if Meryl had won for this film, she'd have three lead actress wins and one supporting, while Katharine Hepburn would have three lead (one being a tie). They currently seem so far apart in their Oscar tallies, but it's wild to think how very close Meryl came to being the standalone top recipient for acting honors from the Academy Awards.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Let's talk about...retirement.

I'm resurrecting an old tag that I haven't posted in for two and a half years! I had ostensibly started the "Let's Talk About..." section to chat about work Meryl has done, but considering the stage her career is nearing, I'm curious to hear people's opinions.

Streep is just a few months shy of her 70th birthday. A lot of years left, one might assume. If we look at some of her contemporaries, many are working well into their 70s and 80s. There has been no greater time to be an actress over 50 in Hollywood than it is now (not that it's great).  And I have to expect that most actors don't think of retirement the same way most of us plebeians do, in that we work and save so that one day we might be able to survive without having the commitment of a job. No, they're doing exactly what they want to be doing. So what's there to retire from?

I suspect that this is how Meryl sees it as well. If the roles are there, she'll keep it up. Yes, she takes breaks, then goes four or five years working on multiple projects successively. But she's also a grandma now, and one wonders if it ever occurs to her that it would be nicer to just hang it up for longer than six to twelve months on occasion.  Granted, not filming anything for, say four years, isn't retirement, but it would be a distinct shift in the pattern we've seen since Meryl got her start in the late 70s.

My speculations are probably out of fear that she would consider putting less out there, as I've become so accustomed to essentially having a new project to look forward to on a yearly basis. What gives me comfort is that if the scripts are out there, Meryl's likely going to be at the top of the list for whom directors want to work with, assuming Meryl fits the demographic of the role. She typically doesn't produce her own stuff, but perhaps if The Nix gets underway it would be a foray into creating roles for herself that she finds interesting and would otherwise not get made.

This year will be a fun one, with Big Little Lies, The Laundromat and Little Women all still to come. But what we can expect from Meryl's future résumé as she enters her eighth decade of life is probably anyone's guess. Here's hoping it's even more fruitful an exciting than the previous seven!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

"Mary Poppins Returns" available for digital download

As of yesterday, Mary Poppins Returns was available for home viewing through certain digital download options. Physical media like DVD and Blu-ray come out next week (do people still buy those?).

I think I've mentioned this in a previous post, but I don't really have much desire to see the film again. Despite that, I'm a sucker for extra features, to which a simple click of a button on my computer will give me access. So I might end up forking over the bucks for it. 

There was an interesting article today in USA Today about what can be expected from the film in terms of its place in movie history. With the popularity of the original classic with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, I tend to be pessimistic about Mary Poppins Returns being looked back on as anywhere near as memorable or accomplished. It was an enjoyable movie-going experience, but a forgettable one, for me. 

Ultimately, I'm not sweating it either way, as Meryl had a bit part and there are much bigger and better things to come.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Streep trending top five for Supporting Actress in "The Laundromat"

For several years now, my main source of consistent, accurate commentary on the upcoming chances for film awards has been in the forums of Awards Watch. From the moment the Oscars are over, new polls surge for the next year's predictions in multiple categories. Meryl, of course, is a mainstay on the site (whether they love her or are jealous of hate her). Failing to predict her, at least early on, is a bold and probably stupid choice, as she's shown time after time that when she's in contention, hers is usually the last name left off the list nomination morning.

This year is no exception, as Streep again has a legitimate film role in contention for awards. Little is actually known about her character in Steven Soderbergh's upcoming Panama Papers drama The Laundromat. But needless to say, with the pedigree of the picture, if Meryl's role is more than tiny she's going to be on people's radars. With that, the March poll at Awards Watch lists Meryl in the top five (I's early) for Best Supporting Actress.

Let's break down the top five:

1. Margot Robbie (74 votes) in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Robbie portrays murdered actress Sharon Tate in a story set during the time of the Manson Family murders. Directed by Quentin Tarantino, biopics are usually Oscar-bait and this is likely a complicated role. It would be Robbie's second nomination following last year's lead nom for I, Tonya.

2. Annette Bening (56 votes) in The Report. She's playing Senator Dianne Feinstein in a post-9/11 drama about CIA interrogation tactics. Another real life character. This would be Bening's fifth nom and many would say she's due.

3. Laura Dern (47 votes) for Little Women. Sound familiar? Yes, Meryl is in this latest adaptation by director Greta Gerwig as well. I'm sure a lot of people might consider Streep's role as Aunt March a contender for this film as well, but it sounds like her screen time will likely be too brief for consideration. Dern is therefore the obvious choice here for supporting. After her recent Emmy love, this would be Dern's third nomination for Oscar. I have a feeling that this might be a tough one though, as (another) remake of Louisa May Alcott's classic may seem a bit tired for voters.

4. Scarlett Johansson (44 votes) for Jojo Rabbit. This film is apparently supposed to be a dark comedy. Johansson plays a mother hiding a Jewish boy during World War II. Yes, that totally sounds comedic. There's usually a newbie in the top five, and this would be Johansson's first nomination.

5. Meryl Streep (36 votes) for The Laundromat. I supposed I've already said what I know about this. Meryl is in a highly-anticipated film by an acclaimed director. It's a no-brainer that people are predicting her. I actually think it's incredible how high she's ranked, considering we know so little about her character. This would be Streep's 22nd nomination.

I'd be surprised if we didn't get at least one person of color in the mix. Octavia Spender in Luce? Janelle Monaé in Harriet? Jennifer Hudson in Cats? We've got a long way to go, but it's exciting to have Meryl in the mix again this year.