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.


  1. Excellent choice! I also really enjoyed the movie, Kathleen was a real treat and it would have been a real departure for Meryl.

    Do you think she would have been strong-armed into making the sequel the way Kathleen describes in her autobiography?

    I would be really sorry to lose Silkwood though. I though the three leads had exceptional chemistry. The Meryl-Michael-Danny dynamic would have been interesting to see!

    Two other Turner movies I would love to have seen Meryl in is "War Of The Roses" and "Serial Mom". What do you think?

    1. Glad you like it! I didn't know Turner was sort of strong-armed into the sequel, but I have a feeling that if Meryl didn't like the script she'd would've been like, "Um, pass."

      I like to think of the recasting as sort of an alternate universe in parallel to her actual filmography ha. So I don't consider it losing Silkwood...I def would prefer that for her legacy that Romancing the Stone. I think I've seen War of the Roses but not Serial Mom. The former would probably be another fun comedy. Does Turner's character actually have some threads of Meryl's in She-Devil?? Same year.


    It's in this interview, but Kathleen had signed some papers that perhaps Meryl wouldn't have felt compelled to do this if she already had clout.

    This makes me wish Meryl had penned a great autobiography like Kathleen's. I just don't see her being that candid and I don't give a shit.

    Barbara is much more rooted in reality than Mary Fisher, who would have been a cartoon in less capable hands. She gets to run a range of emotions, physical comedy, be the villain and victim as well as be sexy and vulnerable. A much more demanding character and Meryl could have gone to town.

    What do you think of "To Die For" if it was made earlier? Meryl chose "She-Devil" in part because it offered her a chance to be glamorous. I think she would have been terrific in that part.

    1. I don't picture Meryl every writing a memoir either. I think I saw To Die For once many years ago so I don't think I can gauge whether or not it would be a good fit. But I'll take your word for it!

  3. Good call Jeff. 'Silkwood' got Streep's work into every suburban cinema across Australia for the first time (and into the conversations of my school year, due to Cher's role) and apart from seeing the trailer for 'Kramer vs. Kramer', it was the first time I'd experienced her work for myself. Swapping that role out for Joan Wilder is perfect, since everyone saw 'Romancing The Stone' and was talking about it.

    If Streep had performed the lead in 'Frances' then she'd have probably received the same advice Kim Stanley gave Lange: do a comedy, fast. 'Romancing The Stone' would have delivered that opportunity in spades, and laid more solid ground for Streep to achieve the odd comic role in the comedy-rich 1980s and 1990s. I can imagine her in 'Sleepless in Seattle, for example, and elevating it to an Oscar-nominated cast, instead of a brace of dramatic roles followed by 'the wilderness years' when she was seen to be experimenting but was possibly struggling.

    I recently re-watched an old interview with Streep in which she explained 'Silkwood' was the first production on which she felt she had any ability to 'put a project together', in that she had power over the casting and director, which is not something she's made a big thing of over the years (although I think it's part of the reason she'll stay quiet on the memoir front... perhaps until much later).

    Her 'production currency' probably didn't last long (she had no control on 'Out of Africa' for example), but is evidenced in 'Plenty', 'A Cry in the Dark', 'Heartburn' and possibly 'Ironweed', 'House of the Spirits' and 'Postcards from the Edge' but it was not apparent again until after 'The Devil Wears Prada'.

    Plus I appeal to you to consider what else Mike Nichols directed (and/or Nora Ephron co-wrote) that Streep could have been cast in, because if there's one break your alternate filmography might not sustain, it's with that director and writer!

    The challenge you have set yourself just gets more and more interesting with every film! (and I hasten to add it's great light relief to be a reader of and an appealer about... too much to take seriously, but then again... LOL)

    1. Hi, Mike. Thanks for the quote regarding the advice given to Jessica Lange after Frances. I hadn't heard of it prior to reading your post, but it's sort of where I was going in regard to choosing Romancing after the series of roles Streep would've played in this alternate history up to that point.

      It's interesting the prospect of Mery's "production currency" at the time. I almost take for granted nowadays that there are probably a fair amount of projects that get greenlit simply because Meryl has agreed to do it. The Devil Wears Prada's success followed by Mamma Mia! and Julie & Julia (as far as their box office returns) really afforded her that luxury moving forward.

      I'm really looking forward to the next few years of my recasting...

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  5. Streep is a communist bitch.

    1. No, but I bet she could play one brilliantly.

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