Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Recasting 2006: "Notes on a Scandal"

From the start of this project, Notes on a Scandal was one of the films I had solidly in my mind. But not without a few small reservations at first. Was Meryl maybe a tad too young at the time? Did I want her in three consecutive roles playing Brits? Those were fleeting concerns, however, as the plum role of Barbara Covett playing against the great Cate Blanchett were far too appealing prospects in the end. 

Streep almost worked with director Richard Eyre in the late 90s. She and Glenn Close were going to produce and star in an adaptation of Frederich Schiller's play Mary Stuart, which I discussed a bit in last week's post on Elizabeth I. Alas, Judi Dench would take the role in Notes, and Meryl had to "settle" that year for The Devil Wears Prada.

The film is set in London, where jaded history teacher Barbara Covett is drawn to an alluring new faculty member, Sheba (Blanchett). When Barbara witnesses a sexual encounter between Sheba and one of her students, she manipulates Sheba into spending time with her. Barbara sort of "leaks" the scandalous story to a colleague, and Sheba is found out. Barbara takes Sheba in, only for Sheba to read Barbara's diaries about how obsessed she is with her. The fantasy is destroyed for Barbara and Sheba is sentenced to a prison sentence for sleeping with a minor. 


It's obviously supposed to be a conflict, but I personally find this scene extremely uncomfortable. Yes, it's sad when a cat dies, but we get to see the depths to which Barbara's obsession has gone, where she truly thinks Sheba should skip her son's play to spend time with her instead. There's no debate that Sheba's choice to have a sexual relationship with a minor is wrong, but I couldn't help but feel like "Oh my God, just confess so you can rid yourself of this woman." It's a worse fate to live under the thumb of an irrational schemer. 

I've read some criticisms that the character of Barbara is a bit of a negative stereotype: the predatory, spinster lesbian. I guess I wasn't super aware of that being a common thing, but I wonder if it would've given Meryl pause in accepting a role like this. Barbara's a victim in her own way. She's of a generation where she probably could never act on or develop the kind of relationship she wanted, and had to resort to undertaking deceptive and often overreaching steps to maintain what she'd convinced herself was some kind of coupling. 

All that said, what a treat this would've been to see Meryl sink her teeth into. It's a decidedly unsympathetic character. Not since my choice of American Beauty for 1999 has the recasted character been this difficult to root for. One could argue that Miranda Priestly was of this same ilk, but I tend not to really see her as a villain, so much as cold and driven. I imagine Barbara could've been a fun turn at this stage in this sort of alternative career I'm creating. She's a complex cookie. Dench did a wonderful job negotiating the sort of dual character she has to convey. In her narrations of her diary entries, she's a contemptuous, bitter person. While early on with Sheba, she's kind, maternal, and charming to the point of being seductive. Barbara's therefore a bit of an actress herself, and she plays it well. 

The film did very well with critics and made some money too. Most praise was heaped upon Dench and Blanchett, as well as the screenplay and Philip Glass's score. But it was Helen Mirren's year in The Queen. Looking back, I'm not sure that role and performance were worthy of the type of sweep it achieved for Mirren, but I was happy for her nonetheless. Had Dench prevailed for her performance as Barbara instead, I expect most people would've been shocked, but not because Dench wasn't amazing in it. After Mrs. Brown, Notes on a Scandal was probably the best work she's done in a lead performance on film. 

 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

"Don't Look Up" wraps

 Filming has evidently wrapped on Adam McKay's upcoming Netflix film, Don't Look Up. 

That is one incredible cast. It'll be really interesting to see how this pans out. I could see it going either way with critics. But I have to imagine with how many big names this attracted, they can't all be wrong about there being something special about the project. 

Netflix has not yet set a date for the film's release, but it's very likely going to be fourth quarter of this year. Meryl currently has no other future screen projects confirmed. Looking forward to finding out if she is indeed going to be part of Damien Chazelle's Babylon. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Recasting 2005: "Elizabeth I"

Surprise! I've selected my first television production for this recasting project. And it was one of the easiest decisions among the thirty I've chosen thus far. There's been documentation that the role of English queen Elizabeth I in Shekhar Kapur's 1998 film Elizabeth was one of the few for which Meryl has been turned down. I don't believe that for a moment. Not that it isn't a fantastic role and picture (one of my favorites, in fact). But Streep was easily twenty years too old for the role at the time. Elizabeth ascended to the throne at the age of 25. Streep would've been 45 at the time of filming. Not buying that she was a realistic contender. 

Tom Hooper's two-part HBO series on the monarch's later life had no such age limitations. Meryl would've been a perfect age to play the role originally portrayed by the great Helen Mirren. And if I must say, with the right makeup, Meryl was sort of a dead ringer for Elizabeth--at least based on portraits that have survived:


I mean no disrespect if this is not exactly a flattering depiction. But the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the complexion...I can see Meryl behind it all.

I've had a fascination with the English monarchy since childhood. I suppose it stems from a general interest in history and politics. The monarchy is just such an old institution (that still exists!), I've found it so interesting over the years to have such a tangible link into history. I won't get into how preposterous the notion a modern monarchy actually is, but I've read extensively on Elizabeth, Henry II, William the Conqueror, the uncrowned Empress Matilda, Richard III, Queen Anne, Queen Victoria, and devoured movies about all of them and many others. Suffice it to say, it's an appealing prospect to insert Meryl into a project that so thoroughly showcases the life and times of one of the most well-known queens in history. 

The first half of the series primarily follows Elizabeth and her relationship with the Earl of Leicester (Jeremy Irons), and the second, with the much younger Earl of Essex (the dreamy Hugh Dancy). It might seem a little lame that the focus is largely on how two romantic relationships shaped Elizabeth's last two decades, but I think it's important to understand the context under which Elizabeth was a monarch at all. Her half-sister, Mary was England's only previous female crowned head of state, and only reigned for five years. There were all kinds of squabbles about Elizabeth's legitimacy, as the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. To then be thrust into a realm almost exclusively made of men couldn't have been easy. 

It's interesting how Elizabeth refused to marry and therefore produce an heir. That, too, caused all kinds of hand wringing among her advisors and members at court. In this particular series, things are getting to the point where time is running out for that being an option, and eventually, Elizabeth makes known it will not happen. I can only imagine how lonely a place it must have been for her. Not necessarily because she didn't have a husband, but just that she really had no real contemporaries. As a character she was vain, spiteful at times, histrionic, and yet undoubtedly intelligent and shrewd. She was also very conflicted over certain "princely" duties (like sentencing her cousin Mary of Scots to death), only to carry them out if was ultimately in her best interest. 


I can't help but think about how I wish Meryl had ended up making Mary Stuart with Glenn Close in the late 90s. I include that possibility in my reimagined filmography, and enjoy envisioning Meryl in the title role in that movie. Were she to then play Elizabeth as suggested in this recasting project, it would be just like reprising Bette Davis's iconic role of Jane Hudson in a remake of the 1962 classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, only to then go on and portray Joan Crawford in Best Actresss (which eventually was made into a limited series on FX entitled Feud with Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon). The Baby Jane remake was a real thing, with Walter Hill planning to direct, with Streep and Sissy Spacek rumored to star. Alas, it never came to fruition.

Elizabeth I was a huge success for HBO. The show itself and Mirren were showered with critical praise. It took home nine Emmy awards, including Outstanding Miniseries, Directing (Hooper), Lead Actress (Mirren), and Supporting Actor (Irons), all of course in the Miniseries or TV Movie category. Mirren also won the Golden Globe, while Irons joined her in wining at SAG. The production quality is no where near as expensive or grand-looking as the 1998 film version, but the lead role was no less juicy. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Recasting 2004: "Vera Drake"

When I came to the year 2004 in my considerations for this recasting project, I passed over Vera Drake rather quickly. I remember thinking that I liked the movie and loved Imelda Staunton's performances in it, but that it seemed so unlikely and removed from what I thought Meryl would do that I needed to consider other options. Annette Bening's role in Being Julia seemed like a reasonable alternative--also Oscar-nominated, accent, even a fun younger romance for the character to sink her teeth into. But the latter never really got me excited about picturing Meryl in the role. 

So I returned to thought of Vera, to the point that I watched it again for the first time since seeing it in the theater in early 2005. I was living in Phoenix for one of my grad school clinicals, and I drove up to Flagstaff to a more obscure theater that was still playing it. It felt like an Oscar movie in a good way. Something that wouldn't necessarily make money, but that smartly evoked a very real human experience in the portrayal of this family. 

Cut to my second viewing, and I don't know what I was thinking in possibly not recasting Meryl in this role. As mentioned, Imelda Staunton brilliantly portrays the title character, a low to middle class house cleaner in 1950 London who just happens to also perform illegal abortions. After one of the girls she "helps" gets seriously ill from the procedure, the girl's mother is forced to give Vera up, and Vera is arrested. She's sentenced to two years in prison, with Vera and her unwitting family absolutely despondent.

It is such an emotional performance from Staunton. I couldn't remember for sure whether we ever found out exactly why Vera bothers to help these girls out (while her childhood friend profits from it without Vera knowing). But we learn that Vera found herself in a similar situation as a younger woman, and likely now felt compelled to offer assistance for anyone as desperate as she once found herself. 


The movie does such a good job of building up our fondness for Vera as this scene approaches. She works hard. She is incredibly devoted to her family, finding a suitor for her awkward and plain daughter. She has such a sunny disposition, that the overwhelming horror she feels for bringing shame upon her family almost does her in. The real shame, in my opinion, lies in the fact that there was no way for these women, some of them raped, others probably unable to choose whether they add to their already enormous broods, and that there was no option for them to safely and legally terminate their pregnancies. Sadly, I suspect it's still like this is many many parts of the world. 

It likely would've been a major long shot for Meryl to participate in this. Director Mike Leigh tends to primarily work with English actors. I haven't read specifically that he had Staunton in mind from the start, but even if he didn't, Meryl was unlikely to be on his list. But stranger things have happened in the world of film-making. People get whispers of scripts out there and actors drop out last minute. I imagine Meryl would've been drawn to the intensity of this character's scenes and vague backstory. And she would've gotten to do what would probably be considered a "working class" London accent. 

The film was an enormous success critically. Staunton won both the BAFTA and Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival, and was nominated for the Globe and Oscar as well, where she lost out to Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. Vera Drake was such a small movie that it didn't make much money beyond its budget, but what it lacks in star power and a Hollywood director, it makes up for with intimate staging and exquisite, compassionate acting. 




Thursday, February 4, 2021

Guest spot on "Meryl Streep and the Movies" Podcast

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining Zachary Scott Johnson and Maryl McNally for an episode of their wonderful podcast, Meryl Streep and the Movies. The pair have been discussing Meryl's movies for years, and they caught wind of my recasting project and thought it would be a fun thing to discuss. Which it was! The episode starts with a little "what are you watching," followed by discussion of the recasting project. We finish with an analysis of A Prairie Home Companion. 

You can listen here, or find it for free in the Itunes Store App. Check out the rest of their episodes as well. They've recently been covering Meryl's entire filmography in detail!

I had such a good time (which you can probably tell by how fast I was talking)!  Enjoy.

P.S.--The Prom was shut out at the SAG noms this morning. Not surprising after yesterday's debacle with the HFPA. I'm just going to leave it at that. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

No Golden Globe nom for Streep

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced its nominees for film and television this morning. It was almost an afterthought that Meryl would receive nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for her performance in The Prom. Multiple sources were even predicting a possible double nom in the category, with her other lead role from Let Them All Talk. I didn't expect two to happen, but it wasn't a wild possibility--she was nominated twice for 2008's Doubt and Mamma Mia!, and again the next year for Julie & Julia and It's Complicated (both of these last two in the same category of Musical or Comedy). A nomination this year would have broken her own record of 32 Golden Globe nominations (33 if you count her honorary Cecil B. DeMille award). 

Alas, Streep came away with a rare Golden Globe snub. It actually is a pretty shocking omission. Among the deserving nominees (Maria Bakalova--Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Kate Hudson--Music, Michelle Pfeiffer--French Exit, Rosamund Pike--I Care a Lot, and Anya Taylor-Joy--Emma), I think most people were surprised to see Hudson (in a film directed by Sia) and Pike's names among the list. Neither's films have been seen by wide audiences yet, so perhaps when they come out in the coming weeks, we'll see why they made it in over Meryl. It's further disappointing that none of these films are true musicals, as was The Prom. 

It's not a completely unprecedented scenario for Streep. Five years ago, she missed all major award nominations for her role in Jonathan Demme's Ricky and the Flash. Generally anytime Meryl's in a lead in a comedy, it seems a slam dunk for her to get in with the Globes. Not that year, and unfortunately, not this year either. What's even stranger is that The Prom was nominated for Best Film Musical or Comedy, AND James Corden was nominated for Actor in a Musical or Comedy. I don't think there has ever been a time that a Streep-led film was nominated but SHE wasn't. Super weird.

What's perhaps more glaringly brow-raising is that all four films whose ensembles mainly consisted of black actors were snubbed in Best Film categories. While Regina King scored a nom for directing One Night in Miami, the film itself was not nominated. Nor was Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Judas and the Black Messiah, or Spike Lee's Da Five Bloods (the last of which was shut out of ALL nominations). 

There are so many snubs and nice inclusions to discuss, but it's too early to process and break everything down quite yet. Suffice to say I was happy with the love for The Crown, Schitt's Creek, and female directors in film. I guess if there were ever a year where it might be a bit easier to stomach Meryl having to sit out, it's a year where likely none of the awards shows are going to include nominees in the actual audience. The Emmys didn't suck, but it's definitely very different from what we can usually expect...especially at the Golden Globes, where Tina Fey and Amy Poheler and scheduled to host a virtual ceremony on February 28.  

The full list of nominees can be found here


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Recasting 2003: "Panic Room"

One of the things I enjoy about this recasting project is that I get to imagine how Meryl would've fared in projects with new directors. It's not something I really thought about for movies prior to following Meryl's career as closely as I have. I just knew whether I like a certain movie or not. Yes, some had distinctive styles. But I didn't consider much the actual making of the films, and how certain directors likely have their own approaches that inevitably show up on screen. As it turns out, almost without me realizing it, I'm a big fan of David Fincher movies. Seven, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (I don't think I disliked Fight Club, but honestly the only thing I can remember about it is Brad Pitt's body). 

Thinking about the possibility of Meryl being directed by Fincher, Panic Room seemed like it could've been a reasonable opportunity. Based on my two previous choices, I had to again bump this selection back a year, as the film was originally released in 2002. Nicole Kidman had been cast in the lead role of Meg Altman, with Hayden Panetierre set to play her daughter, Sarah. Panetierre dropped out shortly before filming began, and was replaced with Kristen Stewart. They were already a couple weeks into production when Kidman, too, had to drop out due to an unhealed injury she suffered on the set of Moulin Rouge. Not wanting to scrap production, the role of Meg was quickly recast with Jodie Foster. 

It's easy to imagine that Meryl would not be David Fincher's first choice (or second, obviously) for this role. Nor do I suspect this role is something Meryl would naturally be saying yes to. But what if in their search, Foster had been unavailable or uninterested. Same with Angelina Jolie or Sandra Bullock or Robin Wright, who were all apparently considered as replacements. Had Meryl done Requiem for a Dream a few years prior with Jared Leto, maybe he would've tossed that idea to Fincher as a sort of "out of the box" consideration. I know that's a stretch, but I enjoy being able to find even a shred of plausibility for my choices in any given year. 

The story pretty much takes place in one day. Meg Altman, coming off a divorce from her rich husband, has purchased a several-story brownstone in Manhattan. The home was built with a hidden "panic room," a fortified space for protection in the event of intruders. Well, you guessed it. People try to intrude on the home. Jared Leto portrays Junior, the grandson of the previous owner, who knows there are bearer bonds worth millions inside the panic room. Dumb-dumb Junior doesn't expect Meg and Sarah to have already moved in the night he plans the heist. Forrest Whitaker is Junior's accomplice, with experience in installing panic rooms. Country singer Dwight Yokum (in a surprisingly very convincing and super creepy performance) rounds out the intruder team as Raoul, an ex-con-like bad guy willing to be the one who hurts people. 

Things get pretty dicey quickly. Sarah has diabetes, and without her medication is in danger of not making it until they can be rescued. Meg manages to alert her ex-husband, who calls the police. Some struggles ensue, but ultimately, Meg and Sarah survive and the bad guys are all either killed or taken into custody. 

This wouldn't be the first thriller I insert Meryl into. Copycat several years prior would have similar suspense qualities to it. This film, however, has the added appeal of David Fincher's extremely meticulous approach and style. Again, the role I've chosen was originally cast with someone several years younger than Meryl would've been at the time. But I argue it almost makes more sense to have someone closer to 50 than 40 in this. Consider the fact that the guy who plays Meg's ex, Stephen, is portrayed by an actor who is eleven years older than Meryl. It seems a natural element in the story that there's some animosity from Meg over Stephen having possibly left her for a younger woman. Kristen Stewart would've been around twelve had they filmed in early 2002. Meryl's youngest daughter Louisa is a year younger than Stewart. No issues there. 

One of the hardest things I imagine an actor having to do is when they'd be required to "act" while in character. Meaning, trying to fool someone in the story, lie, or pretend for a while that what's happening is actually not. Take for example the scene where the cops come and Foster has to pretend that everything's OK. 


You can't act too well, otherwise it'll seem like the character of Meg is a good actress. We shouldn't necessarily expect that from her. Play it too poorly, and it wouldn't be believable for the police officers. It's a tough thing to balance, and I thing Foster does a good job here. I'd of course love to see how Meryl would negotiate that scene. 

Panic Room was a box office success and did fairly well with critics as well (76% on Rotten Tomatoes and 65 score on Metacritic). Despite its favorable reception, it wasn't a typical "Oscary" film, like several of Fincher's other movies turned out to be. Foster did earn a Saturn Award nomination for Best Actress. Regardless of awards recognition, I think it would've been a fun and different role to see Meryl tackle.