Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Recasting 2007: "Frozen River"

For 2007, I struggled to identify a film that I thought would be an interesting fit for Meryl. I had the opposite problem for 2008. I couldn't decide between two projects I wanted to include. So, I split the difference and just bumped Frozen River up year. It was pretty practical choice; the film started shooting in March 2007 and wrapped in a few short weeks. A release for later that year would've been absolutely doable, considering it originally premiered at Sundance in January 2008. 

Streep, of course, would play Ray Eddy (originally played by Melissa Leo), a struggling mother in upstate New York who needs to find a way to supplement her income. Her husband is a gambler who disappears with the money that's meant to serve as a down payment for a double-wide trailer. She finds someone driving his vehicle, Lila Littlefoot (Misty Upham), and the two form an unlikely partnership smuggling in illegal immigrants from Canada across the frozen St. Lawrence River. 

I watched the film for the first time last year not long into quarantine. While it's usually characterized as a drama or suspense/crime, I found it to be a rather intimate character study on mothers. Ray is a desperate woman who goes to dangerous lengths to provide for her family. Lila mourns her young son, who was taken by her mother-in-law following the death of her husband. The two make for a prickly duo, and their somewhat cantankerous interactions provide interesting friction while they ultimately rely on each other to earn their illegal dough. 

You can tell it's not a super mainstream movie when you can't even find a single clip outside of the full trailer. Regardless, we get at least a glimpse of Leo and Upham, and the bleak setting in which the film takes place. It actually kind of reminds me of the very realistic feel of this year's Nomadland, with an obviously very different plot. For Meryl to have been involved in Frozen River, it's unlikely that it wouldn't have been as quietly or inexpensively made (only $1 million!). 

But I'd love to see Streep in in films like this more often. There's plenty to do with the Ray, and although the two main characters would never have interacted otherwise, their own misfortunes bring them together in what becomes an endearing partnership. It's a lovely testament to the importance of our shared humanity, and how we're all probably a lot more alike than we'd like to believe or admit. 

Meryl might seem a bit too old or the part on paper, but I don't think she'd be less believable than Leo was in that department. Maybe they would've made the younger brother not quite as young as he was in the film. Meryl would've been 57 had its shot in early 2007. 

The film only made $6 million, but that's still six times its budget. Numerous critics placed it in their top ten lists for 2008, including the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Leo snagged multiple awards for her performance, and earned her her only Lead Actress nomination at the Oscars for this role, losing out to Kate Winslet in The Reader. Director Courtney Hunt was also nominated for her screenplay. If you haven't got a chance to see it, I strongly recommend setting aside some time. 

Streep would go on to star alongside Upham in 2013's August: Osage County, only a year before Upham's tragic and untimely death in Washington state. 


  1. Jeff this was my 2008 choice, a great movie and complex role. The role is not something we generally see from Meryl.

    You've done me favour though as I was determined to get "Il y a longtemps que je t'aime" - "I've loved you so long" into my revised filmography. Not only a wonderful film with great acting, but a chance for Meryl to act in French, which I'm sure she would have mastered.

    SPOILER: I do not think age would be a problem as the character had been in prison for years as was meant to be a lot older than her sister, she was also a Doctor so makes sense she had her so in her 30s.

    Just such a great role with layers of complexity. 2008 really did have some great roles.

    I personally believe Doubt and Meryl's performance as Sister Alolysius in particular are really underappreciated.

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  2. I've never seen this film. I am not sure it was even released in Australia. Will have to check it out. For 2008 I'd put Streep in Synecdoche, New York in the Dianne Wiest roles.