Thursday, October 22, 2020

First teaser for "The Prom"

Netflix has released its first teaser for Ryan Murphy's upcoming screen adaptation of the Broadway musical, The Prom.


Wow, Meryl looks amazing (physically, like she looks fit and pretty). I'm getting a strong High School Musical meets Mamma Mia! feel from this. Like so much of Ryan Murphy's stuff, especially recently, the set design and costumes are VERY colorful, which I enjoy. 

It's hard enough for me to be objective about Meryl's stuff regardless, much less the first time seeing teasers like this. I'll have to watch it a few more times to get a good read. It looks like a fun, uplifting movie, which we could all use a little of right now. And I know we can't, or at least shouldn't try to gauge awards or critics predictions from one trailer, but I don't expect this to go any further than the Globes. I'm happy to be wrong about that! 

Netflix will release the movie to its streaming platform on Dec 11. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Recasting 1990: "The Grifters"

On to a new decade! Coming off what would've been 1989's Dangerous Liaisons, let's imagine that director Stephen Frears had been so impressed with Streep's work as the devious Marquise de Merteuil, that he wanted to cast her again in his upcoming neo-noir pic, The Grifters. It's not difficult to believe in that possibility. Directors often have favorites. Frears himself cast Judi Dench in three lead roles in the last fifteen years. All Meryl need do is say "yes" to another great role.

Martin Scorsese was originally planning on directing this film, but ultimately suggested Frears, as he was looking for something to follow up Liaisons. I can totally see this movie in the hands of Scorsese. This type of mob-related crime drama is very much in his oeuvre. We'll just have to be patient if we want to see Meryl inserted into a reimagined Scorsese role, however, much less cast in a real-life one. 

The role of Lilly Dillon was originated by the great Anjelica Huston. A long-time con artist, Lilly visits her son Roy (John Cusack) after several years apart, only to find him badly injured from a scam gone wrong. She tries to get him to give up "the grift", saying he's not cut out for it. Roy eventually gets into a fight with his girlfriend (Annette Bening) when he declines to join her in a long con. Myra (Bening) gets pissed after Roy hits her and decides to take her revenge by ratting out Lilly for stealing from her boss--a man who beats the shit out of her for being late to the dog track after she takes her son to the hospital. 

 

A role like Lilly sort of reminds me of how rarely Meryl does stuff as risky as this. When I watched the movie for the first time this summer, I didn't think it was all that out there. But watching clips again, I can think of very few scenes of her where it's actually disturbing to watch what the character's going through. She does enjoy topics that are "difficult," but there aren't many films where it the concepts could've been received as to be in poor taste. Not that she was never involved in a poor film, but not in roles that necessarily put at risk her particular brand of star. For heaven's sake, Lilly essentially seduces her own son at the end to try to persuade him to let her go after he catches her stealing his money (as an aside, I happen to think Cusack looks more like Streep than Huston). While not exactly the stuff made of fairy tales, it's the kind of "difficult" we don't really see Meryl do. 

But it's exactly why I'd be so interested to see her get lost in something so treacherous! I know she's said she hates noir, but like American Gigolo a decade prior, if it's actually a good movie with a great script, I wonder if she'd have had a different take on the genre. And she would've been able to say in the Los Angeles area to film this. She's of course been on record as having made a point of accepting only roles for which she could film in L.A. during the early 90s, so as to not have to cart her family all over the world. 

Huston, in a role that was originally intended for Cher, did an amazing job and won several critics awards. She came up short at the Oscars, however, losing out to Kathy Bates for her incredible performance in the screen adaptation of Stephen King's Misery (one of my personal favorites). I also sort of wonder if the Academy felt bad for their sinful omission of Stephen Frears a couple years prior for directing Dangerous Liaisons, as they made up for it with this film. Bening also received a supporting nod, as did the film's adapted screenplay. 

I highly recommend having a look. 



Friday, October 16, 2020

Streep, Bergen, and Wiest on "Let Them All Talk"

Entertainment Weekly released an extensive interview today of a Zoom meeting with Meryl, Candice Bergen, and Dianne Wiest. The three are starring in the upcoming Steven Soderbergh comedy for HBO Max, Let Them All Talk. 

This is by far the most detail we've had about this film. It's a bit surprising that we're getting release details (although vague) from one of the actors rather than the streaming platform. In the interview, it's suggested that the film will be released in December. First time we've had a month nailed down, although there are only two remaining in the year. 

The trio go into some nice background on their characters and what it was like filming aboard the fancy cruise ship Queen Mary 2. More interesting is how improvised much of the dialogue is apparently going to be. Writer Deborah Eisenberg would evidently give the actors a sense of the scene's outline and where it needed to end up, but the lines were not rigidly scripted. It's an interesting and fresh approach for what most of us are used to when watching film. Not that we'd always know whether or not something may have been improvised, but the fact that this is being discussed so specifically, it adds an extra bit of increased anticipation to see how it's all going to turn out. 

Sounds like they're feeling pretty good about it. It's exciting that we're going to be getting so much of Meryl in the next couple of months!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Streep joins Adam McKay's Netflix comedy "Don't Look Up"

Several sources reported yesterday that Meryl has signed on to co-star in Adam McKay's upcoming Netflix comedy, Don't Look Up. It's been in the works for some time, with Jennifer Lawrence having previously been announced as a lead. With the updated casting news, however, we've learned that Leonardo DiCaprio will likely be the other lead, as the films blurb reads:

...(the film) follows two low-level astronomers who embark on a media tour to warn mankind of an impending asteroid that could destroy the planet. Lawrence and DiCaprio are expected to play the two astronomers...

This is pretty exciting news. McKay received a lot of acclaim for 2015's The Big Short. It's an amazing cast, and the only thing that remains to be seen is how much each of them will be in it. The tea on the AwardsWorthy forums is that Meryl will be portraying the president of the United States. Sounds like it could be more than a mere cameo.

Sources have indicated that the movie is already set to begin filming in Boston on November 19, which means we're likely to see a late 2021 release. I'd been wondering if Meryl would participate in filming anything while the pandemic is still if full force. Apparently she's prepared to do so. Which also means that if Damien Chazelle's Babylon gets underway early next year, and if Meryl is indeed going to star as rumored, it likely won't be Covid that would keep her out.   

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Recasting 1989: "Dangerous Liaisons"

This is not the first (Hester Street, Julia, Romancing the Stone) nor the last time I'll be "adjusting" the original release year for a film in this recasting project. While Stephen Frears's widely popular adaptation of Les liaisons dangereuses was originally released in 1988, I've chosen it to follow Gorillas in the Mist. I just couldn't pass up this film and role. 

It's not that wild to imagine the film being released in 1989. According to IMDb, shooting didn't begin until May of '88, wrapping in August. Very few films these days are ready for release only four months later. In fact, knowing this filming schedule, I'm rather surprised it wasn't held until 1989. I think I'm justified in my choice to include it for my recasting, at least based on a release probability standpoint. 

1989 marks the start of what I've often quoted from Aussie Mike Burge's 2012 article as Meryl's "wilderness years." The period of '89-'94(ish), where we saw a bit of a departure of Streep's work from the often suffering non-American to some, shall we say less "high-brow" fare. Personally, I'm not a fan of the work in this period, and although I know it was a deliberate decision for Meryl based on the geography of her family (or so she's been quoted), I'd have preferred her to continue with roles similar to those she generally throughout the 80s. 

With that in mind, I'd recommend anyone who's interested to know what will not be included in the next five years of my recasting project to refer to my 2014 "reimagined" look at this period. Those films will remain in that universe of thought...with one very minor exception, which will not be revealed until the conclusion of this current project. 

Which brings us back to Dangerous Liaisons. Glenn Close's leading role as the conniving Marquise de Merteuil was one of the most highly praised of her career. The film takes place among the 18th century French aristocracy. It's a bit of a convoluted plot, but suffice it to say that de Merteuil is trying to get back a lover who has spurned her by having someone else seduce her ex-lover's soon-to-be new wife. 

John Malkovich portrays the dastardly Vicomte de Valmont, but balks when challenged to seduce the young girl (played by a very young Uma Thurman), saying it's too easy. Instead, he sets his sights on the pious Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Merteuil agrees to a night with him if he succeeds. An intricate series of plots and plans takes place, where not surprisingly, everybody pretty much ends up getting hurt or killed. Merteuil is ultimately shamed publicly at the opéra for her schemes, with the crowd booing her out of the theater.

I made a point of rewatching the film recently. I'd remembered so little of the actual plot and performances. One of the most memorable things for the this time around was how specifically the character of Merteuil articulates the plight of women in her position:


It's an interesting, if sad, existence. With so few opportunities for making your own way women, in her view, were often consigned to manipulation. Or perhaps, as Meryl once put it in her 2011 commencement speech at Barnard:

"Women are better at acting than men. Why? Because we have to be. If successfully convincing someone bigger than you are of something he doesn't want to know is a survival skill, this is how women have survived through the millennia." 

I expect that's pretty accurate. And I was pleasantly surprised by this being an undercurrent to the film's plot. Without it, the character of Madame de Merteuil might have come across as a little too one-dimensional. 

The film was widely praised by critics. It earned seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Lead (Close) and Supporting (Pfeiffer) Actress. It snagged three wins for Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design (duh) and Art Direction, with this last win one of the most deserving I can recall. The sets are absolutely gorgeous. 

Prior to Close's loss a couple year's ago to Olivia Colman, her role in Dangerous Liaisons is likely the closest she came to nabbing that little golden guy. Many at the time considered her the front runner. Alas, Jodi Foster took home her first of two Oscars in three years for her role in The Accused (1988). Had Close been up against Jessica Tandy in '89 instead, I wonder if she might have squeaked it out. 


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

First official stills from "The Prom"

Netflix has released several set pics from Meryl's upcoming film, The Prom. 

Streep as Dee Dee Allen

James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, and Streep

Streep and Corden

Ariana DeBose and Jo Ellen Pellman


Very colorful and Ryan Murphy-y. And Meryl looks like she's bringing some major camp again. There's a good quote from her about the film on IndieWire:

“It just had some of the juju of ‘Mamma Mia!,'” Streep told THR of her decision to take the part in “The Prom.” “This is based on a real thing that happened to kids in Indiana, and has a happy ending, everything we dream of in 2020. I wanted to do it. So, the character is a big asshole. I tried very hard to bring that part of me forward.”

Netflix is set to release the film on Dec 11. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Recasting 1988: "Gorillas in the Mist"

From the time I was a small child, I've been fascinated by the great expanses of the African wilderness. Nature shows on public television and eventually the Discovery Channel were a frequently viewed programs in my home. Of greatest interest were those which depicted large cats, but really anything featuring animals in Africa was interesting and exotic to me. 

It wasn't until much later that I was able to really appreciate the work of naturalists like Jane Goodall, David Attenborough, and Dian Fossey. The last of these names is of course the subject of the 1988 drama, Gorillas in the Mist.  

I have to admit that despite my own interest in natural history, I remember the previews for this movie more than the movie itself. I was nine when it was released in theaters, and I'm sure it would've been far too adult for me to have attended in person. It wasn't until college that actually ended up seeing it for the first time, and I watched it again a few months ago in quarantine when I decided I was going to include it in my recasting project. 

Directed by Michael Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter, Nell), Sigourney Weaver portrayed Fossey on screen. While I consider Meryl's performance in A Cry in the Dark to be the best of any actress that year, Gorillas would've been a great get. Fossey was an American primatologist who studied mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Her account of her work in the eponymous 1983 book serves as the source material for the screenplay. 

The film follows Fossey as she arrives in Africa, having pestered famed anthropologist Louis Leakey in the U.S. for a job in studying the gorillas. She's driven out of the Congo due to political unrest and moves across the mountains to Rwanda, where she's able to finally make some progress on her studies. There's of course a romantic subplot between her and photographer Bob Campbell (Bryan Brown), but the main focus really is Fossey's increasingly fanatical defense of her primate friends against money-hungry poachers.

             

Pretty bad-ass. It's probably not much of a spoiler for a biopic to reveal that Fossey is brutally bludgeoned to death in the end. Theories abound as to who may have done it or orchestrated it, including the possibility of the Rwandan government itself. 

In several reviews of the film, critics, while overall tending to praise the film and Weaver's performance, often bemoan the lack of emotional depth into which the actress is allowed to dive. Specifically, many have cited the fact that Fossey's "mental state" was more precarious than depicted in the film. She was rumored to have detained poachers she "caught," having beaten one of them in the genitals with burning nettle leaves. Yikes. I think it's hard to say if this sort of gentler take on Fossey was a super deliberate choice in the script, or a combination of that and both the directing and choices from Weaver. I speculate as to how Meryl may have influenced all of that, for the betterment of the picture, of course. 

The film was a box-office success and received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress for Weaver, in what she has since described as her best work. It won zero. Weaver however won TWO Golden Globes that year, for Best Actress in a Drama for this film, as well as in supporting for Working Girl. I'd have to check for sure, but the only other time I can recall that happening is when Kate Winslet won for both The Reader and Revolutionary Road. It would've been a fascinating character for Meryl to interpret, nonetheless. And she would've been able to speak gorilla on screen! For real. Weaver learned, like Fossey had, to verbally communicate with real gorillas. Not too many roles these days that require that particular skill. Alas, Meryl has yet to venture beyond perfecting the delectably diverse speech patterns of homo sapiens.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Recasting 1987: "Anna"

My guess is not many people are aware of Polish director Yurek Bogayevicz's 1987 drama Anna. Neither was I until earlier this year, when I came across its title doing a little research for this recasting project. Having read the film's synopsis, I quickly became intrigued by the title role, brilliantly portrayed by the great Sally Kirkland. 

It's true I'm a sucker for a new accent. Anna is a former Czech actress who defects to the United States after the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Considered "aging" in her early 40s, she struggles to find work in New York. When Anna and her on again-off again partner Daniel take in young actress who just arrived from Czechoslovakia (Paulina Porizkova), a bit of an All About Eve scenario ultimately ensues, with the lovely young protégé stepping into her mentor's former spot in the limelight. 

1987 was a big year lead actresses! Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Cher in Moonstruck, Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, Barbra Streisand in Nuts, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon joining Cher in The Witches of Eastwick, Diane Keaton in Baby Boom, and of course Meryl in her Academy Award-nominated performance in Ironweed. But out of all those fantastic roles and performances, while there are several I'd get a kick out of seeing Meryl portray, Anna seems to be the best fit for this year. 

Coming off of a somewhat comic performance the year prior in Crimes of the Heart, the role of Anna would have been a great dramatic role. It was based on the life of Polish actress Elżbieta Czyżewska. While not exactly a biopic, it provides a backstory of how Anna left Czechoslovakia, having giving birth in a prison after having almost killed a man in Prague. 

There are a few threads of Sophie in this, of course. I hesitated a bit at first including this film in my recasting, thinking Meryl would've been too young for the role. Kirkland portrayed a 44 year-old. Had Meryl filmed this around the same time she did Ironweed (early '87), she would've been just about to turn 38. Not a lot of actresses are going out of their way to portray women older than they need to. But Meryl has never really demonstrated that vanity. She's lucky enough not to have had to worry quite as much about that back then. It's really been about the role for her, and that's what has provided her such great longevity...not being predictable and not being afraid to appear "un-pretty." Just take a look at her roles from 1986's Heartburn and Ironweed:

Streep in Heartburn
Streep in Ironweed


Not exactly glamorous turns. Thirty years ago, pushing forty was a little more dubious than it is nowadays for film actresses. I think this role may have been one with which Meryl would've identified, even if she had been a tad younger than the part called for. 

Kirkland deservedly won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama and went on to earn her only Academy Award nomination for the performance, ultimately losing out to Cher for the aforementioned Moonstruck.






    

Saturday, September 19, 2020

2020 Emmy predictions

The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards will be presented (virtually) tomorrow night. Meryl of course is up in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her work in season two of HBO's Big Little Lies. 

While I'm glad Meryl scored a nom, I'm not super optimistic about her chances at securing a win. Below are my predictions in her category, from most likely to least likely to win.

Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown)
Julia Garner (Ozark)
Sarah Snook (Succession)
Meryl Streep (Big Little Lies)
Samira Wiley (The Handmaid's Tale)
Fiona Shaw (Killing Eve)
Laura Dern (Big Little Lies)
Thandie Newton (Westworld)

I'm an enormous fan of The Crown and think Bonham Carter would be a deserving winner (as would her fellow nominee in Lead, Olivia Colman). I think this could end up being a surprise category, however. I've never seen Ozark, but critics have regularly praised Garner for her work, and she won last year for the same role. Laura Dern won two years before that, but after her Oscar win this year and the fact that the second season of BLL wasn't as well-received, I was actually a tad surprised she made the cut for a nom. I would not mind at all if Sarah Snook took this--Succession is one of my favorite new shows of the last five years. 

Here's hoping Meryl can score the upset. In other categories, I'm rooting for any and all nominees up for Succession and Schitt's Creek.










Monday, September 14, 2020

Netflix sets premiere date for "The Prom"

Netflix has announced that Ryan Murphy's upcoming adaptation of the Broadway musical, The Prom, will be available to stream on December 11. 


Top billing of course for Meryl. It's prime awards placement for release as well. I think a Golden Globe nod is on the horizon, and who knows...maybe more?




Sunday, September 13, 2020

Recasting 1986: "Crimes of the Heart"

Coming off a pair of heavy dramas, 1986's adaptation of Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Crimes of the Heart, offers a bit of dark comedy in continuing this recasting. Directed by Australian Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy), the film has been described at times as Hannah and Her Sisters set in the South. I had definitely considered that film for this latest installment. But ultimately, Crimes of the Heart's Gothic setting and its incredible ensemble put it over the top for me. 

I would recast Meryl in Sissy Spacek's role of Rebecca "Babe" Botrelle. She is the youngest of a trio of sisters in Mississippi who are reunited after Babe is apprehended for shooting her abusive husband. A huge draw for me is the fact that, very much like Agnes of God, Meryl would have gotten to be part of a powerful ensemble of mostly women. I've always wanted Meryl to work with Jessica Lange (who plays middle sister Meg), and while I'd prefer to see them in more of a duel lead scenario (think Thelma & Louise or an adaptation of Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer), this would've been a perfect opportunity for the two of them to share the screen. The great Diane Keaton completes the circle of Magrath sisters, portraying wallflower, Lenny (Lenora). 

The role of Babe isn't an enormously challenging one on the surface, but there's plenty to do here. She's a bit of a space cadet, and feels suffocated by her controlling husband. In what today would likely be a far more controversial subplot, Babe forms a sexual relationship with a 15 year-old African American boy in town (sidebar--I'm slightly less scandalized after reading that the age of consent in Mississippi is 16). Rather than push for Babe's imprisonment for having shot him, he instead insists the boy, Willie Jay (portrayed by Gregory Travis) be sent out of town. This is a far more devastating consequence for Babe, and she, like her mother before her, attempts suicide. I wasn't able to find any better clips of Spacek's best, scenes, but this old video from Siskel & Ebert actually covers a few great points and showcases the ladies together.

I can't help but think of another Pulitzer Prize-winning play that involved the reuniting of three southern sisters: August: Osage County. We get the plain Jane who never left town, the sort of free spirit whose facade of cuteness masks a troubled inside, and the one who managed to get out and who, while also troubled, likely has the most rational take on the family's history of issues. While they are brought together for different reasons in the two stories, both of course involve the sisters' struggles with their dysfunctional parents, in particular their mother. 

In Crimes, the Magrath matriarch makes headlines for having eccentrically hanging both herself and her cat. In the aftermath, the sisters, with their father not in the picture, were raised by their "Old Grandaddy." Lenny, in a foreshadowing to the character Keaton would play exactly ten years later in (also starring Meryl of course) Marvin's Room, takes on the burden of helping to care for him as he slips ever closer to death. 

Something I found interesting about this movie is that the three leads, while super effective in their roles and collective chemistry, tend to be a bit typecast. Last year I posted a great video where Meryl's career is dissected to help articulate "why we love" her. There's a section in it where she is compared with several of her peers. Examples are given about how Meryl's role diversification over the years has helped her longevity. When Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek are mentioned, the sort of pigeonhole into which the three have historically been placed shows up pretty acutely in Crimes of the Heart: Keaton is neurotic, Spacek is Southern--again, and Lange is the sexy one. But it still works for me. 

This is the second consecutive play adaptation in my recasted Meryl filmography (three if you count the fact that A Passage to India was adapted to a play first from the novel). It's also the second straight film for which there is an tight nucleus of women at the heart of the story. The film received positive reviews from critics. And while it was a box office disappointment, Spacek scored a nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Oscars. Tess Harper was nominated in supporting (playing the awful cousin and neighbor, Chick Boyle), as was Henley for her beautiful screen adaptation. 


Sunday, September 6, 2020

Recasting 1985: "Agnes of God"

From the outset of my plan to recast Meryl in a lead role each year dating back to the late 70s, Norman Jewison's 1985 drama Agnes of God has been on the list. The more obvious choice for a great role released the same year might have been portraying Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams. After all, Streep pined for that role, and it's one of the few she's publicly bemoaned not having secured. 

But I feel this current project is something different. Back in 2014 when I completed my "reimagined" history of Streep's screen work, I inserted her into roles for which I wish she would've done. A sort of "perfect" career in my view, which included roles for which she was interested or considered, but ended up not portraying, for whatever reason. This latest iteration primarily considers parts that generally never had Streep attached or rumored. And it affords me an opportunity to fine-tune my reimagined history in the future, since I'm able to consider roles that I may have inelegantly squeezed into my previous project that really don't make a lot of sense from an actual schedule standpoint. It therefore might now seem more reasonable that I'm not choosing Sweet Dreams for '85. I expect this rationale will be even more evident in the roles I choose for the period of '88-'94, considering it was the greatest impetus for my original look back at Meryl's filmography. I can only imagine anyone who might be reading this blog for the first time thinking, "Are you friggin' kidding me with this detail?" Alas, no. 

Which brings us to Agnes of God. I likely first saw this movie when I was seven or eight...probably on cable somewhere. I grew up Catholic, went to a Catholic school, had nuns as teachers. There was a convent next door to our playground. And the movie adeptly captured a way of life with which I somehow felt familiar. Some of you may be wondering which role I'm thinking of for Meryl. Good question. While I love the fact that this is such an intimate story centered on a trio of women, I see Meryl in Jane Fonda's role of Dr. Martha Livingston, a chain-smoking psychiatrist in Montréal assigned to evaluating a young novice, Agnes, who's suspected of killing her newborn daughter. 

From the get-go, I wondered if Meryl may be a bit too young for this role. Fonda is about twelve years older than Meryl, and the character seems to be a well-respected and established professional in her field. Livingston also mentions, when asked by Agnes why she has not had children, that she no longer menstruates. Meryl was 36 when this movie came out...probably not the demographic for which menopause is a common thing. However, I rationalize that away with a little help from the screenplay. A little background on Dr. Livingston is that her mother is in a long-term care facility with dementia. She confuses Martha with her deceased daughter, Marie (who incidentally died in a convent). During a visit from Martha, her mother mistakenly thinks it is Marie, not Martha, who has come to visit her. In a bit of a rant, she complains to "Marie" that Martha is "going straight to hell" for having married a "son-of-a-bitch Frenchman" and having had an abortion. We therefore learn a bit of history regarding our main character, and perhaps a bias she may have against Catholic doctrine. 

So, I think it would've been an easy and potentially more interesting adjustment in the script for Martha, when answering Agnes's question about children and saying she no longer can, to explain that she had to have a hysterectomy when younger (due to a botched abortion). I know that's probably getting way too into the weeds, but bear with me and how my mind can't get past little hangups like that. Besides, Meryl and Jane didn't look all that different around that time:

Streep in 1984's Falling in Love
Fonda in 1985's Agnes of God

Back to the film. Alongside Fonda, the magnificent Anne Bancroft (OMG if only Meryl could've worked with her!) plays--in my estimation--a mother superior who, for better or worse, is unable to completely suppress her secular sensibilities.  


The chemistry in the back and forth between the two actresses is intense and palpable. And I should say now that there are obvious parallels between this film and Doubt. Meryl of course does not play the nun in this situation, but a former wife and mother who is now a mother superior going up against a threat to her order, it conjures similar feelings. In certain ways, however, Agnes of God, for me, is even more compelling. 

That brings us to the great Meg Tilly, who plays the titular role of Agnes. Not unlike Amy Adams in Doubt, Tilly, to a much larger degree, is able to convey pure innocence. With Agnes, her naiveté borders on imbecility. But there's enough nuance in Tilly's portrayal and her characterization from playwright and screenwriter John Pielmeier (based on his original 1979 play) to make us wonder to what level she really knows or doesn't know what's really happening around her. 

Dr. Livingston makes a special connection with Agnes, trying to get to the bottom of how her child dies. More specifically, Livingston wants to know how Agnes became pregnant in the first place (like all of us), what Mother Miriam (Bancroft) knew, and whether or not Agnes is "an innocent" chosen by God for sex-free conception (yikes), or simply a sheltered girl with a history of abuse who doesn't possess the ability to comprehend the fact that she's been raped.
   
Heavy stuff. It's a tricky subject which I expect Meryl probably would find enticing. The film is noir-ish, which we know Meryl doesn't like. But I've never really thought of it as a shadowy crime movie.  I tend to think Meryl might have provided a little more nuance in regard to Livingston's "non-believerism." Fonda plays a great antagonist to Mother Miriam and the Catholic Church, but I don't really get much sense of conflict or (ha) "doubt" in her portrayal. She's got her mind made up, and that's that. I'm probably very much like her as a person, but for the film and role, it would add an element of interest if we saw a little bit more space for the other side in her character. And did I mention that she gets to speak a little bit of Canadian French?

The movie wasn't super well-received by critics (43% on Rotten Tomatoes), but both Bancroft and Tilly were (VERY deservedly) nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. I still enjoy watching the movie to this day, and would love to have seen what Meryl may have brought to the role of Dr. Martha Livingston with her performance. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

New set photo from "The Prom"

Director Ryan Murphy posted a pic to Instagram today showing the cast for his upcoming adaptation of the Broadway musical, The Prom.


A lot of outlets are suggesting that Meryl is completely unrecognizable with her red hair. I'm not sure that's true, but she does look unlike the vast majority of her characters. I sort of consider the look a cross between Topsy and Miranda Priestly. 

Murphy praised the cast for having the gumption to complete the film's last bits amid the Covid crisis. But we know that there really wasn't much for the cast to do, the remaining footage was basically "second unit," per Murphy. 

We can expect the movie to hit Netflix around Christmas. 



Saturday, August 29, 2020

"Babylon" to begin filming in early 2021

An obscure article was posted on Awards Watch yesterday, describing how Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand's upcoming film, Macbeth, was able to film during the pandemic. Location manager Chris Baugh is currently in demand among film producers for having effectively implemented Covid protocols on set. I'll let your read the details, but the logistics of it are pretty staggering. I work in healthcare so I know all too well the tedium of appropriate use of PPE, social distancing, sanitization, screening, and testing protocols. Suffice it to say it's kind of a nightmare. When they're rigidly adhered to, however, the strategies actually allow people to work at a much lower risk. That seems to be the case in film as well, with zero positive tests resulting in the Macbeth filming. 

At the very end of the article, Baugh is quoted as saying that he'll soon be working on Damien Chazelle's Babylon, which is apparently set to begin shooting "early next year."  

So, a couple of things. One, Meryl at this point is still only rumored to be cast in this film. And even if she was officially cast, we don't know if she'll choose to stay attached amid Covid uncertainties. She is, after all, in an age demographic that is at higher risk of severe complications if infected. Two, we don't know what "early" means in regard to a 2021 production schedule. That could mean January, or as late as March. Having read the script, this is the type of movie I would expect to be a bit tedious in post. There are a lot of scenes and a lot of people doing a lot of things in some of them. Aside from that being a logistical nightmare from a Covid procedures standpoint, it probably won't be swift to edit. 

If shooting gets underway by January or February, we can probably expect more casting updates relatively soon, and a possibility that they'll be able to keep their late 2021 release date. If it doesn't start until March or April, I think even a December release would be a bit tricky. And who knows if they had planned for fall festivals?

Stay tuned for future updates on Meryl's potential involvement. I'd love to see her in this project, assuming it can be completed safely. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Recasting 1984: "A Passage to India"

I've probably mentioned this in previous posts, but part of the fun I'm having in deciding which films to recast Meryl has been in seeing a few things for the first time. David Lean's 1984 epic adaptation of E.M. Forster's novel, A Passage to India, is one such case. The film appealed to me because I couldn't think of anything Meryl's done on screen that takes place in Asia. And of course that it was a highly acclaimed film by a prominent director. After taking in a viewing of it early on in this quarantine, I decided it would be a good fit for my list. 

The story takes place in the 1920s during the time of Great Britain's rule over India (known as the British Raj). Adela Quested (portrayed by Judy Davis in an Academy Award-nominated performance) is on her way to India with her soon-to-be mother-in-law, Mrs. Moore (portrayed by Peggy Ashcroft in her Academy Award-winning performance). The two pine for closer interaction with the Indian population, which, during the burgeoning Indian independence movement at the time, was becoming more separated from the colonialist community. 

The two women (Meryl of course would play Adela) befriend a local doctor, Aziz Ahmed (Victor Banerjee), who offers to guide them on an excursion to a local cave site.

      

Long story short, Adela is seen running from a cave all bothered and bloody and she, after a some sort of "calming" injection from a treating physician, claims Aziz attempted to rape her (which we know he didn't because we see him watching her run out of the cave).  

The role of Adela may not seem particularly brilliant on the surface, but there's a conflict in her character that I expect Meryl may have found appealing. Judy Davis apparently won the part when she met with Lean and said that what happened in the cave was that "she can't cope with her own sexuality, she just freaks out." There's a romantic chemistry between Adela and their Indian guide, Aziz--something that would've been completely out of the question for a woman in her position in that day and age--plus the the fact that she isn't particularly fond of her betrothed, Mr. Heaslop.

A clash of cultures develops when Dr. Aziz goes on trial for the attempted rape of Adela. Prejudices run rampant, with the rich little white girl pitted against what the colonialists consider, despite Aziz's standing as respected physician, a savage member of a primitive society in need of domination. Adela eventually breaks down on the stand during Aziz's trial, withdrawing her claims when she realizes she was mistaken. 

It's the kind of story with a level of "difficulty" that Meryl tends to favor. It challenges preconceptions of non-Western culture and dared to even hint at the possibility of an interracial relationship. I realize this wasn't unheard of in 1984, but for the characters in this film and especially understanding the time period in which the novel was written, it was rather controversial stuff. I think Meryl would've done a brilliant job with some of the more ambigous aspects of Adela's character: her lack of clear memory of the incident, her struggle with what was likely an unspoken and perhaps subconscious attraction to Aziz, her disinterest in an almost arranged marriage. 

The cinematography reminds me of the large-scale foreign feel we see in 1985's Out of Africa. Although this film is not quire the scale of Africa, it sort of fills the slot of a similar-feeling destination, compared to the Western fare up to this point in the my recasting. 

The film was highly praised critically, and earned eleven Academy Award nominations. In addition to the aforementioned supporting win for Ashcroft, Maurice Jarre won fir his compelling score.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Recasting 1983: "Romancing the Stone"

I expect that quite a few people who read the headline for the post are thinking, "for real?" I had originally planned to recast Meryl in Debra Winger's role in Terms of Endearment for 1983, but for a few reasons it just never sat super well with me. Meryl might have been a little too old for that part (not a deal-breaker though, considering she believably played Shirley MacLaine's daughter in Postcards from the Edge). I was interested in the fact that the movie was so wildly popular and well-received. Both Winger and MacLaine were nominated for lead Oscars. But having watched Terms again recently, nothing particularly struck me as something I haven't seen from Meryl before. 

Which leads me to Romancing the Stone. One of my self-imposed "rules" for this project is that I want the recasting to (at least somewhat) fit into a realistic filmography that Meryl would've done, given the recasted roles into which I insert her from years leading up to my current choice. If we look at the movies I've chosen thus far: Hester Street, Closer Encounters of the Third Kind, Julia, American Gigolo, Reds, Frances. They're all very serious. It's seems fitting that Meryl might want and/or need something a bit lighter. 

I realize I'm moving the film's release up by a year--it was originally released in early 1984. Michael Douglas wanted to produce the film and Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Death Becomes Her, Forest Gump), despite box office bombs up to that point, was essentially given a last chance. And he didn't disappoint. 

The film portrays Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner), an out-of-love romance novelist who yearns for the same passion she imbues in her heroines. Her sister has been kidnapped in Colombia, and Joan uncharacteristically departs New York with a treasure map she possesses as the ransom. Things get off course quickly upon her arrival, and she pays an American smuggler (Michael Douglas) to escort her to Cartagena. Along the way we get secret police, gunfights, car chases, mudslides, emeralds hidden in creepy ceramic bunnies, hands bitten off by crocodiles, drug-dealing fanboys, and of course, a budding romance.

         

It all sounds pretty cheesy and a little cheap, perhaps. But I love it. There's enough sort of quirky, nuanced comedy that seemed to sophisticate what could've felt like typical car chase-like screenplay. I watched it many many times as a kid. My mom really got a kick out of the movie, and we must have had it taped from TV.  I can remember feeling immersed in a very foreign-feeling place. It doesn't get much more different for a rural Midwestern kid who'd never left the state than imagining what it would be like braving the jungles of South America. It appealed to me much the way Raiders of the Lost Ark had and, to perhaps a greater extent, its sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I've read a few blurbs how some consider Romancing to be a knock-off of Raiders, but in fact, the film was written in 1979, two years prior to the screen debut of Indiana Jones. 

As far as the actual role goes, it's fair to say Joan Wilder goes on a journey. It's not just the wild events she has to endure on her quest to reach her sister. The de-glammed cat lady who has a habit of making herself cry gives way to a sexy heroine who fights and wins against the more powerful bad guy. I expect the shoot had to be quite the romp. And as I previously alluded, after a the stent of roles and stories Meryl would've been a part of up to that point in her career, an action-packed blockbuster may have been an attractive prospect. Most, including myself, consider The River Wild to be an action movie. Yes, there's action, but it pretty much revolves around one big event: white water rafting. It's arguably more of a thriller than it an action movie, for which throwing Meryl into a story like Romancing the Stone is even more fun to consider. 

Moviegoers and critics just so happened to love this movie too. Against its $10 million dollar budget, the film grossed over $115 million worldwide. It won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture and Best Actress (Turner) Musical or Comedy, and currently holds a strong 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, and spurred a successful sequel in 1985. Needless to say, its commercial success would've provided Meryl even greater freedom to choose from whichever projects happened to catch her eye in the near future.




Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Nine years of Word on the Streep!

It's that time of year again! Shortly after the teaser to The Iron Lady was released in 2011, I made my inaugural post on this blog. Hard to believe it's been nine years. After almost a decade of commentary and career deep dives, I continue to find things that excite me about Meryl Streep's performances. 

Thanks to all those who've read this blog and posted in the comments sections over the years. It is and continues to be a joy to interact with you!

Friday, August 7, 2020

Recasting 1982: "Frances"

Last Saturday, I decided to watch the film I've chosen for reacasting 1982: Frances. It had probably been six or seven years since my inaugural viewing of the movie, apparently having made Joe join me in assessing what many consider Jessica Lange's greatest screen performance. Had it not been for Meryl's performance in Sophie's Choice the same year, Lange likely would've come away with a Best Actress Oscar. 

Only a few minutes into the movie the other night, I found myself Googling the person on whom the movie is based, actress Frances Farmer. I was immediately taken aback to learn that I just so happened to be rewatching Frances on the 50th anniversary of the eponymous woman's death.

Holy crap it's a depressing film. Granted, the character of Frances requires an actor to showcase the very extremes of human emotion, from light banter to absolute loss of control. The role tends more toward the latter, and I've learned that some of the items from the book on which the movie is based (such as the scene where Farmer receives a frontal lobotomy), are in fact fabricated. 

The story basically follows Farmer as she makes her way to Hollywood (she wants to eventually end up on the New York stage). Her tendency to question certain artistic choices doesn't exactly ingratiate her to the big studio bosses. She turns to drinking and is sort of gaslighted as a "crazy" person, ending up committed to institutions against her will. It's a great study in the often-volatile relationships between stars of the Golden Era and their vicariously living mothers (here deftly portrayed by Kim Stanley).

It's easy to see why Lange was nominated. While a performance exploring the pendulous behaviors of someone suffering through mental illness has become something close to a calling card for her, in '82 she wasn't necessarily known for it yet. I admit I wondered a few times watching it again if I could really see Meryl doing it. Lange is singular in her portrayal, and it would be a huge stretch. But again, that's sort of why I'm choosing many of the roles I'm choosing in this recasting; it's fun to speculate on how Meryl would negotiate a few more risky parts. 


There were a great many actresses interested and ultimately considered for the role, Meryl included apparently. According to IMDb, Lange won out in the end over Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn. The film was decently reviewed by critics but did not make back its budget. 

Meryl was likely better off with Sophie, of course, but Frances would've been a wild ride. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

"Let Them All Talk" to premiere on HBO Max this fall

World of Reel is reporting that Steven Soderbergh's Let Them All Talk is likely to premiere on the HBO Max platform this fall. They go on to state the ever since HBO bought the rights to the film, the plan was always that it would be released on television, not theaters.  With that in mind, the film will also not be shown at any of the fall film festivals. 

We probably already knew most of this, but it's the first time there's been any news of it definitively not being released in theaters. That means it will be eligible for Emmy consideration, not Oscars at next year's ceremonies. 

October is the rumored release month. Can't wait!



Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Streep scores Emmy nomination for "Big Little Lies"

The Primetime Emmy Award nominations were announced today, and as expected, Meryl came away with a nomination for her work in HBO's Big Little Lies. 

Her fellow nominees in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series category include:

Laura Dern (Big Little Lies)
Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown)
Samira Wiley (The Handmaid's Tale)
Fiona Shaw (Killing Eve)
Julia Garner (Ozark)
Sarah Snook (Succession)
Thandie Newton (Westworld)

I'm guessing Meryl is probably going to come in around third in this race. Bonham Carter and Julia Garner seem likeliest for the win, to me. Laura Dern won two years ago for the same role and just won an Oscar earlier this year, so I'm guessing she's out. Westworld is a bit of old news at this point, while both Fiona Shaw and Samira Wiley were pretty big surprises in the category. And as much as I love Succession, Sarah Snook might have just squeaked in as well. Were Meryl to win, this would be her fourth Emmy trophy. 

But who knows?! Winners are to be announced in a "live ceremony" hosted by Jimmy Kimmel on September 20. Chances are very low that there will actually be nominees in attendance. Thanks, Covid. 


Thursday, July 23, 2020

"The Prom" to briefly resume filming

Multiple sources are reporting that Ryan Murphy's Netflix musical The Prom is set to finish up its previously interrupted filming this week in Los Angeles. As Murphy had previously indicated, principle production had essentially been completed, but there was some "second unit" filming still left to do. 

It's been confirmed that Meryl, Nicole Kidman, and James Corden are not involved in this latest shoot. It's more getting shots for scene continuity and stuff like that. Apparently Netflix is using this abbreviated schedule as a bit of a litmus test for their other future productions, and how they plan to manage the precautions necessitated by the pandemic. 

I'm just glad that we're pretty much guaranteed two new Meryl movie movies by the end of the year! 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Recasting 1981: "Reds"

Hot off an uncharacteristically steamy role in 1980's American Gigolo, I'm inserting Meryl into Warren Beatty's drama, Reds. The film was based on the lives of American journalists John Reed (Beatty) and Louise Bryant (originally played by Diane Keaton), and their involvement in the Russian Revolution during World War I. 

This role seems right up Meryl's usual alley: period piece, biopic, vast scope, political message. In the early stages of her (real) career, she likely didn't have the chops for such a big project--Keaton was a more established leading lady at that point. But again, we're creating our own version of Meryl's filmography with this recasting, so we'll assume that given her résumé from the few years prior to this potential project, she was prime for a sweeping epic alongside Hollywood royalty. 

In the film, Bryant is attracted to Reed's idealism, and ends up leaving her husband to join him in New York. The two have a tumultuous relationship, and Bryan ends up having an affair with playwright Eugene O'Neill, played by Jack Nicholson. Bryant grows increasingly radical, and ends up heading to Europe to be a correspondent during the war. She ends up reuniting with Reed, and they get caught up in the events of the 1917 Russian Revolution. 

 Keaton plays Bryant with her usual exasperated quirkiness. I was drawn out of the plot a little at times, as Keaton comes off so modern to me, that it occasionally didn't seem like this was a setting in the early 20th century. Not that it's bad to forget the characters are from a long time ago, but it takes away form the scope of it all when they ever seem out of their era. Ditto that for Beatty at times. Maybe that's actually the way progressive journalists form that era sounded like?

 

It would've been fun to see Meryl negotiate the complexities of a woman with very independent thinking at that time. Add to that, I imagine the film was a bit radical in itself, as it depicted communism in a sympathetic light...not exactly something typical for American films in the 1980s. 

The film was wildly popular with critics and earned twelve Academy Award nominations, including Keaton for Best Actress. It was also a modest success at the box office. Overall, participation in a film that was as well-received and high profile as this one would have only bolstered Meryl's already burgeoning reputation as one of the most sought-after leading ladies of her time. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

First look at "Let Them All Talk"

HBO Max has unveiled a promotional video for its upcoming content. Included in it is Meryl's upcoming film directed by Steven Soderbergh, Let Them All Talk. Jump to 1:52 for the content:


At a mere seven seconds of video, it's going to be almost impossible to really glean anything of importance from the clip. Meryl looks and sounds like herself. We get a second of Dianne Wiest, Lucas Hedges, Gemma Chan, and Candice Bergen. We get a tidbit of conflict when Bergen's character asks Meryl's character, "Does anybody trust you?"  

No official word on when or how they plan to release it. With the current Covid situation, are we looking at an HBO Max platform only, or also theater release? Considering the Academy has apparently waived the requirement for theater releases to be eligible (I think?) for Oscars, I'm guessing they're just going to release it to HBO only. 

Looking forward to a trailer. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Filming of "Babylon" reportedly pushed back to 2021

Variety reported yesterday that Brad Pitt has signed on to star in a new film called Bullet Train, set for production later this year. This matters to me as a Streeper, as the article also reports that the reason Pitt will be available this year to film is because Damien Chazelle's film, Babylon, has pushed production to 2021. With the number of cast members, close proximity, romantic scenes...I'm guessing they just had to figure it would be a Covid nightmare trying to pull it together this year.

I had posted a couple months back how Meryl is rumored to be attached to the project. The script is wild (in a good way), and it would be a bit of a departure to see her in something this eye-opening. Plus, she'd get to work with Brad Pitt and Damien Chazelle.  

Considering filming may not happen now for over a year, who knows who's going to end up being in the final cast. My guess is that with so many things delayed, most actors' schedules will fairly open, so hopefully Pitt and Emma Stone stay attached. Regardless, with it being delayed now I'm not expecting many casting updates or confirmations for this project in the near future. But I'll keep an eye out. 

Monday, July 6, 2020

Recasting 1980: "American Gigolo"

With which movie would Meryl have followed her tour de force performance in The Rose? As I've mentioned previously, one of the more fun parts of this recasting project is that I get to choose some roles that are a riskier or generally less likely something Meryl would've done without some special circumstance. 

Which brings us to 1980. Usually by the time somebody receives any acclaim for a performance, they're either already in the process of filming their next project, or have already completed it. So, any bounce Meryl or any other actress may have gotten from The Rose wouldn't affect her consideration for future roles until after she completed filming something else. This scenario reminds of when Meryl filmed the noir pic Still of the Night in the fall of 1981. Meryl was yet to receive acclaim for her first lead role in The French Lieutenant's Woman, and had likely been cast for Still of the Night months prior to the latter film's release. 

Still of the Night was a bona fide stinker. Meryl is on record as having admitted it wasn't a good movie, and that she "hated" noir. But what if she had been able to participate is a noir film that was well-made, well-received critically, and a box office smash? Cue American Gigolo. 

It's been reported that Meryl was actually offered the role of Michelle Stratton (originally played by Lauren Hutton), but declined because she did not like the tone of the film. I expect it may have been due to some of the overt sexual language, a scene where she'd be topless, and dealings with BDSM and homosexuality. Meryl likely had no personal issue with any of these topics, but for 1980 is would've been far more risqué to participate in a film of this nature. It's one of the first (if not the first?) scenes where a leading man does full-frontal nudity (a young Richard Gere in a role with a hotness factor that occasionally rivals Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise). Christopher Reeve and John Travolta both came close to appearing in the role. 

The role itself isn't super amazing, but Michelle is a reasonably complex character in a sticky situation. She's a wife of a state senator. Their marriage isn't great, and she ends up meeting a gigolo in a restaurant (where she speaks French!). The two start up an affair, and of course, it's complicated by the fact that his livelihood is based on sleeping with other women, primarily older, rich ones. Hutton does a fine job in the role, but Meryl no doubt would have been able to bring more nuances to the part. I particularly would've like to see more regarding how she feels trapped in her marriage.

      

OMG that's basically the same hairstyle Meryl has in Still of the Night. Maybe it's a noir thing. 

Gigolo was filmed in early 1979, so it would've been able to wrap before Meryl would even be showing with her first child, Henry, who was born in November that year. It hit theaters in February 1980, and earned $52 million at the global box office, against a budget of only $5 million. Reviews were modestly favorable, and the film has become lauded for its original score, which received a Golden Globe nomination. The theme "Call Me," performed by Blondie was a worldwide success, and went to number one. The song also garnered a Golden Globe and Grammy Award nominations. 

All in all, the role in this picture would likely not go down as one of the best of all time, but it still would've been fun to see Meryl stretch her legs a bit, as well as be part of a particularly modern project-- considering the previous two roles for which I recast her in, along with three of the next four I'll be choosing. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Recasting 1979: "The Rose"

Following what would have been supporting roles in two potentially very successful films in 1977 and '78, we can imagine Streep may have been poised to enter the foray as a leading lady. Cue Mark Rydell's 1979 drama loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin. 

The role of Mary Rose Foster was of course originally played by the great Bette Midler. I've read that the director only wanted to make the movie if Midler had agreed to star, so it's tough for me to imagine Streep having any chance at this role. Midler wasn't a huge star at the time, but was of course known for her singing abilities. Meryl at that point likely was not, especially for the type of singing that's required in this movie. But we all know stranger things have happened. 

I managed to get my hands on a DVD copy of the film (it's not streaming anywhere!), and quickly thought to myself, "whoa, this would be tough." It's not often I say that I'd have a hard time seeing Meryl being able to pull off a certain character, but this was one of them--because of the singing performances. 

Don't get me wrong, the rest of the character would've been catnip for any actress: troubled rock star, alcohol/drug abuse, lesbian lover, hippie. Midler was apparently uncomfortable with the original script being too close to Joplin, as the singer had died less than ten years prior, so some changes were made. Regardless, there are some powerful moments in the film of a troubled, even desperate woman on the edge. That part Meryl would've sunk her teeth into. The vocals are another. 

Yes, Meryl is no slouch when it comes to belting out a few bars. Hell, she even believably pulls off a rock and roll singer in 2015's Ricki and the Flash. But while Ricki is a washed up flower child who never made it big, Rose is one of the greatest in the world. What an amazing challenge that would've been for Meryl! I have to imagine with her high, light voice, she could've learned how to passably achieve the vocal pyrotechnics necessary for audiences to be convinced her character was the real deal. 


The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Midler. She also won the Golden Globe for Actress in a Musical or Comedy (which it was neither...rather a drama with music performed by way of a live rock performances). 

Given the opportunity in the lead role, it would've been interesting to see if Meryl ultimately could've done the part justice. And had she, I expect it would've catapulted her into upper echelon of major Hollywood stars. It would be only big-time parts from then on.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Happy 71st, Meryl!

Just a quick shout out for our girl on her 71st! In other news, Little Women has officially topped $100 million at the global box office. 

To many, many more, Madame Streep!


Saturday, June 20, 2020

"Mamma Mia!" 3?

Judy Craymer, who produced the original stage version of Mamma Mia! has recently been quoted as saying a third film may be on the horizon. Apparently she's been planning to develop the latest iteration of the musical, stating that "it was always meant to be a trilogy." Craymer plans to include new material form Abba. 

I'm not sure how I feel about this. I was originally annoyed that Meryl was going to do a sequel, but I ended up actually liking it better (as a whole film) than the original. And while Meryl's part was very small, I struggle to understand how they could incorporate Donna again, considering she was already dead in the "Here We Go Again."

Regardless, both films were huge box office successes. Maybe it would be kind of fun if Meryl were to round out the franchise and be involved in a trilogy (assuming it ended at three). But I'm not holding my breath. 




Monday, June 15, 2020

Recasting 1978: "Julia"

Wait a minute! Meryl was already in Julia. And it was released in 1977.

Yes, we all know that Streep made her silver screen debut alongside Jane Fonda in this Fred Zinnemann drama. Meryl's was a bit part that became even smaller after the editing process. Not a lot of people know, however, that director Zinnemann (Oklahoma!, A Man for All Seasons), had originally considered Meryl for the title role, which eventually went to Vanessa Redgrave. 

In the book Hollywood Heroines: The Most Influential Women in Film History, it's noted that casting director Juliet Taylor had seen Meryl in a play (sound familiar? (see early post on Hester Street)) and recommended that Zinnemann consider her for a role. Apparently the director was so impressed, he considered giving her the part of Julia. Streep's lack of experience, however, and the fact that Redgrave became available convinced him otherwise. 

But what if Redgave had not been available? And what if Meryl had already been able to cut her Hollywood teeth on Hester Street and Close Encounters of the Third Kind? I expect that would've been plenty for Zinnemann to follow his instinct and see what Streep could do with the part. Funding is always a tenuous prospect in film making, so by the off chance it had it been delayed even six months for this film, it's release date might've been pushed to '78. Fonda's Academy Award-winning performance in 1978's Coming Home was actually filmed in early '77. Had it been decided to have that completed by year's end, it wouldn't have competed with a a Julia released in 1978. In comes Meryl for my recast filmography.

It should be said that despite it being the title role, it's still a supporting one. Fonda, who plays playwright Lillian Hellman, is the main character. She is childhood friends with Julia (there would be over a decade age difference between Streep and Fonda, while Fonda and Redgrave were born the same year--but this is the movies and we're allowed to suspend our disbelief a bit, especially if the director is wiling to), and Julia ends up becoming an activist against the Nazis' mounting takeover of Europe. Tasked by Julia to smuggle funds into Germany, we Lillian follow her on a dangerous mission to help out her old friend. 

Meryl would've had a British accent to portray Julia, and if memory serves, she speaks a bit of French in the film as well. It's a far meatier role than the one Meryl actually played, Ann Marie. Julia goes from being a medical student to becoming radicalized in the fight against fascism. She gets the crap kicked out of her by Nazis, which only pushes her further into the depths of the resistance. There are threads of Meryl's role of Susan Traherne in 1985's Plenty, but different enough for them not to be redundant, as is the film itself. 

The part of Julia is serious and melancholic. Redgrave's depiction is of someone incredibly intelligent. Yet while we never doubt her fondness for Lillian, she is seemingly detached in some way from folks not at her level of intense focus and drive. 


The film was nominated for a total of eleven Academy Awards, winning three, including for Redgrave in the Supporting Actress category. Her acceptance speech is actually pretty famous for having been controversial at the time. 

Streep's presence, especially had she received anywhere near the acclaim Redgrave did, would have been a huge follow up to Close Encounters--setting the stage for Meryl to position herself as one of Hollywood's most sought-after leading ladies. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

Recasting 1977: "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"

One might think that since I started Streep's "Recasting" project with a lead role, it's going to as such moving forward. I'm afraid that's not the case. One of my sort of self-imposed guidelines is that with the film replacements I'm choosing, I'd still like her recasted filmography to be one that might realistically be feasible. For example, not having anything too similar too close together, or working with the same director four years in a row. Not that there aren't examples of that, but part of the fun (and my own compulsions) is in trying to make the whole thing work as a complete set. 

With that in mind, I think it's reasonable that Meryl would have been cast in a couple more supporting roles before just becoming a major leading lady in top projects. That brings me to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This is a film that I think I had seen before. At the very least it was a film I was aware of, as I remember my dad often remarking how great of a movie he thought it was. He was never one to really seek out videos though, so it was never something we had around the house or I ever remember seeing even played on TV (although I suspect it was). 

Imagine if director Steven Spielberg had seen an early cut of Hester Street. We know that filming for Close Encounters began in May of '76. Seems a bit too close for Meryl to have caught his eye and still make it into the film. However, we also know that Melinda Dillon, who plays Jillian Guiler in Close Encounters, was only cast about a week before she was set to shoot. So, we'll pretend it was Streep instead who snuck in at the last minute to play the single mom whose son is snatched by aliens. 

I like the idea of Meryl being in a good sci-fi flick. Knowing that she was in the running for 1979's Alien, and had apparently auditioned for Princess Leia in some movie called Star Wars, it's not like she would've been opposed to the genre. This was a big picture with a good role for someone with her experience and clout (or lack thereof). Quick side note--watching it again recently, it had been completely lost on me that Melinda Dillon is Ralphie's mom in A Christmas Story, a film I watch every year around the holidays and adore. I also don't remember the film being as good as it is (again, I'm not positive I'd seen it before, but thought I had). The effects are way less cheesy than I was expecting, and for a decent-sized supporting role, Meryl would have had the chance to show of some of her stuff. 

She'd get to play a midwestern mom whose house is attacked by some alien presence, and as mentioned, deal with the aftermath of her son being abducted. It's something that could easily veer an actor into being typecast as a sort of damsel in distress, but we all know Meryl wouldn't have gravitated toward future roles that would've perpetuated that. Plus, the character of Jillian has to go through a pretty broad set of emotions in her journey--shock, fear, despondency--all the while being a determined parent, much of it done alongside the great Richard Dreyfuss.  


The film was an enormous success both critically and commercially. Dillon was the sole acting nominee (out of a total of eight) at the Academy Awards the following year. It's got a wonderful humanist message and was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry. Had Meryl been a participant, it would have no doubt given weight to her prestige as an actress in potential future projects. 

Monday, June 1, 2020

Recasting 1976: "Hester Street"

Last week, I posted my plan to recast Meryl's entire film career. I've already "reimagined" it, but that was more working under the constraints of films to which she was at least obliquely attached at some point. This newer approach actually allows for a little more imagination and risk when considering projects in which it would've been fun to see her involved.

With that in mind, my first choice in her "recast" canon will date her screen career to one year prior than when it originally began. We first saw Streep in the television movie The Deadliest Season (1977), followed by a bit role alongside Jane Fonda in Julia later that year. She'd been doing theater up to that point, but we know that she had auditioned for the role of Dwan in Dino De Laurentis's production of King Kong (1976), a role which eventually went to Jessica Lange. Streep had evidently been seen in a play by De Laurentis's son, who thought his father might want to cast her. Considering that movie started filming in early '76, Meryl likely auditioned sometime as early as mid to late 1975.

It's very possible that De Laurentis Jr. wasn't the only filmmaker who took notice of Meryl's abilities in those days. Let's pretend that one of those people happened to be director Joan Micklin Silver. She had written a screenplay of Abraham Cahan's 1896 novella Yekl, and ended up producing the film under the title Hester Street in 1975. Carol Kane scored her only Academy Award nomination for the role of Gitl, the role for which I'm choosing to recast with Meryl.

It's no secret that one of my favorite things about Meryl's characters is how diverse their speech is. It's almost a cliché these days to remark on her affinity for accents. But there's something very true and useful in that ability. It really does help capture character in a believable way. And it doesn't have to always just be with an accent; changing one's speech can completely change our perception of that person. That said, I still LOVE when Meryl speaks in different languages and voices, and something that drew my attention a while back to Hester Street is that a lot of the dialogue is in Yiddish (spoken by English-speaking American actors). Gitl also speaks English with a Yiddish accent.

I think it's important to mention that it would've been highly unlikely for Streep to be cast in this film. Understanding that it was a sort of love letter to Micklin Silver's Russian Jewish ancestry, I expect she had specific intentions in casting it with Jewish actors. It's certainly presumptuous of me to assume Meryl would have ever been considered, even if she had been on the director's radar as an actress. But that's part of the fun of this whole idea of recasting.

I watched the film for the first time last week--a pretty quick ninety minutes. I couldn't help but think that it wouldn't have been too wild to see something like this as Meryl's first film role: small budget, pretty obscure, almost stage-like. What I wasn't necessarily expecting was how emotionally drawn I was to Gitl and her plight. Perhaps I'm just a little more sensitive these days to folks being oppressed for reasons as stupid as religion or race.

She arrives in New York with her young son as an immigrant from Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century. Her husband Yankle (having already changed his name to Jake) has been waiting for her, and has more or less already assimilated to life in the U.S. He is verbally abusive when Gitl attempts to maintain some sense of her and their son's heritage. Jake has also been pursuing a dancer named Mamie, which doesn't end when Gitl arrives. If anything, with Jake's disappointment in Gitl's hesitance to immerse herself in American culture, he is drawn even more to his extramarital relationship. Gitl ends up divorcing Jake and marrying a man named Bernstein, who is more traditional.



Micklin Silver apparently adapted the novella with more focus shifted to the point of view of the woman. She does a brilliant job, as does Kane, at letting us understand and feel the frightening events and emotions immigrants undergo when reaching their new homes. On top of that, imagine being expected to just drop your identity upon arrival. It's one thing to learn the local language. It's quite another to consider doing away with the parts of yourself and your history that make you you, and that make you proud or give you a sense of belonging. I felt that watching Gitl. It was touching and maddening at the same time.

So how great would it be to see what Meryl would do with this role?! As previously mentioned above, were it to have happened the way I'm suggesting here, the film would've had to gone into production up to a year after it did in real life. But that's not a huge deal...films are constantly getting pushed back due to budget or casting issues, so a one-year bump isn't enough to make it too unrealistic to fit within the framework of what I have in mind for my recasting project.

I hope everyone reading this considers taking an hour and a half to watch this lovely film.

Stay safe.


Monday, May 25, 2020

New blog project: 'Recasting'

In 2014, I wrote a series of posts where I "reimagined" Meryl's film career.  I had been interested in what it would have been like had she actually been cast in certain roles we never got to see her play. The period of the early 90s had been a major question mark for me at the time, wondering how she ended up taking the roles she did, and why she wasn't in more popular or more acclaimed fare for an actress of her caliber. With very few exceptions, I kept it limited to those that she was rumored to have been attached to at one point, or had dropped out of.

But I haven't been satisfied with leaving it there. I've thought about what her sort of "perfect career" would've looked like occasionally since then, and at some point, I'll post about adjustments I'd make to my previous piece on her "reimagined history." An updated version would mostly consists of additional deletions. I wanted to fit so much in!

So why not just write separately about what would've been fun to see her in outside her normal or my reimagined filmography? Call it a sort of parallel career to the one she's had (or even that I wished she could have had). There are so many roles over the past forty years from movies I've either never seen or absolutely adore for which I'd give my eyeteeth to see a version of Meryl in.

So I'm going to do it. I'll go one year at a time, starting with the beginning of her career. I'm going to try to not just randomly choose a bunch or roles, but to consider how it would've been if she truly did do them all the order I have planned (meaning she would mix things up and not do anything that was too similar too close together, for example). I'll of course take several liberties and apply certain ground rules to keep myself on task. A few guidelines I'm going to follow:

1. I will chose one role for each calendar year, with at least one exception.
2. The roles have to have been reasonable for her to play at the time (age, career stage, whether she was pregnant).
3. The roles will all be lead, with one exception...sort of?
4. Every role will be for a project that was officially released (no unproduced films that I just wish would've come to fruition and didn't).
5. I will start her film career with a film being released in 1976--the year prior to her current filmography (the audacity!)

These are subject to change, but I'm pretty good at sticking to my rules. At some point I might do the same thing with supporting roles, but we'll see how this all goes first. I've pretty much already solidified every choice. Some of my picks will probably make people scratch their heads, but this is after all a personal list. It's fun to choose things that are a bit more risky than I expect Meryl would have ever gone for, regardless of where she happened to be in her career. But those are the ones we probably want to see her play the most anyway!

What I'm possibly looking forward to most about this is all the film history I'm diving into starting in the mid 70s--seeing which roles and films were prominent at the time that I may not have remembered or thought of, or haven't even seen! And then getting to imagine her in the ones I do remember fondly, or happen to consider exciting and well-made, but she either was never offered, or may not have had interest in accepting.

I'm going to try to do one post per week, which means the first entry (probably next week) will be for 1976. Keep in mind my choices may not necessarily be films that were exactly released in that year, but generally they will be. If not, it'll be within one or two. Any guesses?

Looking forward to undertaking this compulsion project!