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.