Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Recasting 1991: "Fried Green Tomatoes"

For me, part of the fun of this recasting project has been inserting Meryl into some of my favorite movies. This particular span of film history (late 80s, early 90s) has some of the most memorable casts of women on screen: Beaches, Steel Magnolias, Thelma & Louise. Not all necessarily feel right for inserting Meryl into the cast, however, For instance, I previously considered M'Lynn for Steel Magnolias, either character for Beaches, and of course I already have Meryl and Goldie Hawn as the star duo of Thelma & Louise in my reimagined filmography from 2014. 

M'Lynn's a good character, but there's just something about Sally Field and the ensemble's performance that's so great and special that I actually don't really like picturing Meryl in it. Same for Beaches, in a sense. That isn't to say that any roles I happen to choose for Meryl's recasting means they weren't necessarily brilliant performances in their own right. It's more a feeling I get of "I'd love to see Meryl do that." It's a bit nebulous, I admit, but I suspect it would be different for everyone. 

So whom do I want to see Meryl portray in 1991's Fried Green Tomatoes? Really there's only one that's reasonable to select, and I expect several people will have a hard time picturing Meryl as this character. But Kathy Bates's as of Evelyn Couch, combined with the greatness of the film itself, are too irresistible of a combination for me to pass up. 

Evelyn is a 40-something housewife in Alabama who befriends a senior woman, Ninny Threadgood in a nursing home (played by Jessica Tandy). Sidebar--this pairing includes the previous two winners for the Academy Award for Best Actress (Tandy in 89's Driving Miss Daisy and Bates for 90's Misery). Ninny recounts tales of her family and friends who lived in the now abandoned town of Whistle Stop. Basically, it's a movie split between present and past, with the present sections showing Evelyn's sort of mid-life crisis dissatisfaction with her life and husband, and the flashbacks depicting Ninny's stories that take place between the two World Wars. 

The role calls for someone overweight, sort of frumpy, no confidence, feels isolated. But the fun of it is there's such a transformation as the film progresses. Through her friendship with Ninny, Evelyn gains some confidence, becomes more fit, gets a good job, and saves her marriage. This clip is sort of the turning point in her character:


If the film kept its early 1991 filming schedule, Meryl might actually have benefited from the fact that she was a few months pregnant at the time. Perhaps they could've filmed her later scenes first (when Evelyn looks more trim and put together) and her earlier scenes later. What better excuse to put on a little weight than when you're eating for two! And it's not as if Meryl's never worn a fat suite (see Florence Foster Jenkins). 

As far as the movie itself goes, my favorite I think are actually the flashbacks, particularly the scenes between Idgy and Ruth (magnificently portrayed by Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker). For one, I love the southern setting and their relationship is very touching. 


My heart absolutely sinks when she says "Come on, you old bee charmer." And I love Cicely Tyson in this. It's disappointing that the film glosses over the lesbian relationship between Idgy and Ruth compared to the book's depiction. The director, Jon Avnet, has acknowledged this, and stated that the food fight scene in the film was was meant to depict "symbolic love-making." I guess they thought it would be too risque for theatergoers in 1991. I think Meryl would've preferred they kept it more like the novel. 

The film was an enormous box office success and did well with critics. Bates was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress-Comedy or Musical, while Tandy was nominated in supporting as well as at the Oscars and for BAFTA. In addition, film also received an Oscar nomination for the its two screenwriters, Fannie Flagg (the author of the novel on which the film is based) and Carol Sobieski. 

To this day, the film remains one of my all-time favorites. 

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.