Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Recasting 2015: "Hello, My Name is Doris"

I can remember leading up to Oscar season in 2015, Sally Field was an early awards contender for her performance in Hello, My Name is Doris. It seemed the type of role and performance that would, at the very least, score her a Golden Globe nomination. I still scratch my head a bit when I look back and think about how the best Field was able to manage was a Critics' Choice nomination. 

Meryl might have fared better. I say that with all due respect to Field. It was a wonderful performance and deserved more recognition, in my opinion. Ultimately, and unfortunately, I just don't think the movie was seen by enough people. Field portrays Doris Miller, a 60-something woman from Staten Island who works in a mid-level office job. She's lived with her recently passed mother her whole life, and Doris finds herself alone in a home packed to the gills with decades of hoarded memories. When a handsome young co-worker, John, (Max Greenfield) sparks an infatuation in Doris, she finds the resolve--with a little influence from a lame self-help guru and a friend's teenage granddaughter--to make a play for him. 


The film is funny and awkward and touching all at once. I watched it again this weekend, and for whatever reason I had sort of forgotten the stuff about Doris being a hoarder. It's a fascinating and often tragic compulsion for many. I'm not a psychotherapist, but from what I understand, it's typically observed in individuals who have other diagnosable disorders. Doris is what many people would call eccentric; she dresses sort of quirky, has a few behavioral idiosyncrasies, and is so outdated in her sense of the world that she seems retro hip to John's very "current" friends. She's likely got depression--in part due to a broken engagement she endured at a young age to stay with her mother, and the life deferred in caring for her til the end. There are a lot of interesting layers Meryl would've been able to unfold in all that. And it's a character Streep has definitely not played before. I found it interesting that in an interview, Sally Field summed up the story as "a coming of age, of a person of age." Well put. 

Quick sidebar: One of the more enjoyable aspects of the film for me are the scenes with the great Tyne Daly, who plays Doris's close friend, Roz. Daly gets some of the funnier one-liners. And Roz's devotion to her friend, despite seeing her going down a path that seems destined to only hurt her, provides some welcome tender moments. 

Field, as mentioned, earned terrific reviews. The fact that the film holds an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes makes it even more perplexing that she wasn't able to garner more traction for awards attention. On its meager budget of only $1 million (a total that probably would've grown by 5-10 times had Streep been involved), the film took in around $14 million at the box office. Not exactly peanuts considering its low profile. I think it would've been a great summer release for Meryl, similar to Julie & Julia, Hope Springs, Ricki and the Flash, and Florence Foster Jenkins

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Streep rumored to be joining Joaquin Phoenix in new Ari Aster film

News broke earlier today that Meryl has signed on to star in an upcoming Ari Aster film, entitled Disappointment Blvd. Described as a surrealist horror film, the picture is set to begin filming in late June in Montreal. Joaquin Phoenix is attached as well. Aster is well-known for his first two feature films, Hereditary and Midsommar. 

OK, first off, let me just say that y'all know I love new project news. Both Aster and Phoenix are extremely talented, and it'll be fun to see the final product if this comes to fruition with Meryl's involvement. But a few questions immediately pop into my mind in regard to scheduling and the tone this film is going to take. Considering the film is supposed to begin filming on June 28, I wonder what that means for Meryl's chances of starring in Damien Chazelle's Babylon. The later is rumored to start filming already this spring. However, if Meryl's role in the Aster film is a supporting one (which it sounds like it is), maybe she'd be able to do both. It wouldn't be the first time she's filmed projects in short succession, especially for parts that wouldn't require her to be on set every day. From what I've read in the Babylon script, the role of Elinor Glyn could reasonably be shot in a couple of weeks. 

Then of course there is the lead role Meryl has coming up in Places, Please. That's supposed to be filming in "summer" as well, but that could be a late August start for all we know. Personally, I would of course love if Streep somehow found a way to participate in all three. 

Perhaps the most perplexing piece of all this is what the Aster film is going to be about. The article I cite lists it as a surrealist horror film. But when I view Joaquin Phoenix's upcoming filmography on IMDb, it lists two separate Ari Aster projects: Beau is Afraid and Disappointment Blvd. The link I provided basically states that the two films are the same, with the name Beau is Afraid being ditched for Disappointment Blvd. When one reads the descriptions of each film, however, the taglines are very different. Beau is Afraid is listed as a "four-hour 'nightmare comedy,'" while Disappointment Blvd. reads as "a decades-spanning portrait of one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time." While I'd love to see Meryl in her first horror flick, my hunch is that she's more likely to be participating in the decades-spanning story, which I've also seen described as a melodrama. 

Either way, it's great when Meryl is attached to high-profile features with lauded directors. The next couple of months are going to be fun. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

"Don't Look Up" set for November...or December release

Director Adam McKay recently did an interview on the podcast Happy Sad Confused. In it, he stated his upcoming Netflix film, Don't Look Up, was likely to be released in either November or December. This isn't exactly wild news, as we already knew it was slated for a fourth quarter release. 

More interesting is how McKay talks about how he and Leonardo DiCaprio reworked the script for several months prior to filming. There's been some buzz that the script was a bit light in some areas, or perhaps too campy. I expected that the version I read was likely not the final draft they filmed. Glad to hear it's been cleaned up a bit--anything to better the chances of this film getting good notices. McKay also commented on how the tone of the film will be a mix of The Big Short and The Other Guys. 

Maybe we'll get our first teaser this summer. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Recasting 2014: "Olive Kitteridge"

Julianne Moore's performance in 2014's Still Alice was one of the most lauded of the decade. She pretty much swept all film awards, including the Big Four: Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and SAG. And yet, there was another screen performance that year that was arguably just as praised and awarded. Frances McDormand's role in the HBO limited series Olive Kitteridge was an acting powerhouse, and would've been an incredible character to watch Meryl interpret. 

Adapted from Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel of the same name, the four-part series takes us on a 25-year journey through Olive's life, and her struggles with depression, marriage, motherhood, and friendship. I think it's fair to characterize her as a bit of a misanthrope. She detests sentiment and will not suffer fools. But Olive has more depth to her than that. I found this particularly noticeable in the relationship with her husband. The old adage of "opposites attract" is not all that accurate in my opinion. I think people who are similar to each other tend to end up together. In the case of Olive and Henry (Richard Jenkins), they both actually share very similar values. Hard work, honesty, a commitment to their home and child. Granted, their instincts on how to go about maintaining those things vary, but at their core, the couple wants the same things. 

My husband and I watched the series this past weekend (it was the second viewing for me, Joe's first), and it reminded me of what I think about as far as what often attracts couples. As I mentioned, mostly it's similarities, but I also think something that's extremely attractive to people is finding someone who shores you up in areas where you're maybe lacking, or reluctant, or afraid. Olive basically says this in the last episode, when with Bill Murray's character she comments on how Henry may have driven her mad at times, but now that he's gone, it seems like he was the perfect man. 

In searching for a clip to show of the show, I found this one and realized the scene sort of encapsulates Olive's whole character and the Kitteridge family dynamic in general. 

I'll add this one of Frances McDormand discussing women's stories on screen in general. 

I have to agree, Frances. Perhaps it's why I'm such a big fan of limited series. Trying to showcase a person, much less a complex personality over the course of 25 years, is very difficult to do well in under two hours. Olive Kitteridge is about four, and we probably still could've used more. 

I deliberately haven't written much in this post about the plot of the series. Watching it the second time, I had forgotten how extraordinary some of the plot points are. And I don't necessarily mean that in a positive way. The connections with random death and violence and accidents in a relatively short period of time is a bit difficult to believe at times. It puts the characters in situations where the have to emote a lot, but honestly, it was a bit distracting at times. 

Joe commented a handful of times on the poor quality of some of the supporting actors' performances. Not so for Zoe Kazan and Bill Murray. And both McDormand and Jenkins were astoundingly good throughout. In fact, I thought Frances was so good, I had a hard time picturing how Meryl would play certain scenes. That rarely happens. But eventually I envisioned it being a mixture of threads from Sister Aloysious from Doubt, Kate from Dancing at Lughnasa, and Roberta from Music of the Heart.

Reception for the series was even impressive, holding a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 89 on Metacritic. Both are indications of almost universally positive reviews.As I mentioned at the start of this post, Frances McDormand's performance was critically-acclaimed. She won the SAG and Emmy awards for Actress in a Miniseries or Television Movie, and was nominated for the Golden Globe (strangely losing to Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Honorable Woman).  Three years later, McDormand went on to win her second Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Will her every-third-year charm continue this weekend where she's nominated again for Nomadland? Tune in Sunday to find out. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Recasting 2013: "The Hundred-Foot Journey"

This is the second consecutive film I bumped up a year. Considering the cast of this movie, I don't think it would've made much of a difference age-wise had it been filmed a bit earlier. The Hundred-Foot Journey pick might come as a surprise to some. Despite Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey having produced it, I don't remember it as a super high-profile picture. But I really enjoy it. I think mainly it's the cinematography; every scene feels like its filled with tons of color. Even the moments that take place at night seem like they're bright. I get a similar sense from Julie & Julia, actually. And like that film, The Hundred-Foot Journey makes me want to eat. A lot. 

Streep would of course take the role of Madame Mallory, originally portrayed by the great Helen Mirren. Mallory owns an upscale restaurant in Southern France. When an immigrant Indian family buys an abandoned restaurant across the street, a battle ensues over attention for customers, and the fact that the new neighbors are, well...not white French. 

Hassan is the second son of the the owner of the new "Maison Mumbai," and has been groomed to become the head chef of his family's business. He had worked closely with his mother in India, before she was killed in a fire started by rioters after a disputed election. In the back-and-forth between Madame Mallory and Hassan's father, Om, Mallory's employees "in secret" deface the fencing outside of Maison Mumbai, and attempt to burn down it down. Madame Mallory fires the guy responsible, and when she takes it upon herself to clean it up the graffiti, Hassan, who's hands were burned in the fire, asks if he can make her an omelette. A sous chef at Mallory's restaurant, Marguerite (with whom Hassan sparks a bit of a romance), had previously told him that Madame Mallory can tell if a chef has what it takes to be great by tasting one bite of their omelette. 

"What, more spice?" I really like this movie, even if some of the dialogue and plot points are a bit low-brow. And it's not a bad role, either. It's certainly not as layered as say, Nic from The Kids are All Right or Big Edie from Grey Gardens, but I think Madame Mallory has a few interesting things in her "arc" that would be interesting to see Meryl negotiate and perhaps elevate. 

Madame Mallory is part of an old guard of snooty culinary insiders. France is of course a mecca for fancy cuisine, and Mallory's livelihood and legacy (and ego) depend on her achieving that elusive second Michelin Star. There's a brief reference to her late husband's former involvement in the restaurant at one point, so I guess we're expected to assume that she might carry that torch within her as well. Then there's the more interesting piece to this, in that Mallory, like probably most white people and especially most white people born before 1980, grew up with a certain amount of prejudice. Had the family been Swedish, I doubt there'd be as much of a conflict there. We get to see her get past some of that, if in a tired sort of way. 

I can't pass up the chance to talk about a new accent. Meryl has spoken French in other films (Plenty, a little bit in her Julia Child voice), but never done a French accent on screen (that I can think of). It got me thinking about how Québécois director Xavier Dolan has stated that he'd written a script for Meryl. I wonder if it would've been for a character whose first language was French. I think Mirren does a fairly good job, but I have to say that I tend to hear a bit of British in everything I've seen her do. Then I got to thinking how there's probably a difference between doing a French accent in English if it's someone who lives in Europe versus North America. Native French speakers who live in Europe probably learn British-sounding English, which no doubt has a slightly different sound in a French accent than American English. 

Mirren snagged a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. The film was a box office success, earning close to $90 million worldwide on a budget of $22m. Mirren and director Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat) were both praised, and the film received decent reviews, despite the being what many critics thought was "predictable food porn." Sometimes it's just nice to watch flicks like that though. And it feels good to leave a movie in a better mood than when it started. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Adam McKay talks "Don't Look Up"

There was brief article with director Adam McKay released today. In it, he discusses his upcoming film (which includes Meryl of course), Don't Look Up. What I found interesting was how the film was ostensibly going to be an allegory for climate change. But with the wild ride we've had this past year, it's taken on a new context: 

“That is kind of how it started. But then the pandemic hit. What that did was bring out what the movie is really about, which is how we communicate with each other. We can’t even talk to each other anymore. We can’t even agree. So it’s about climate change, but at its root it’s about what has the internet, what have cellphones, what has the modern world done to the way we communicate.”

As I've previously posted, I had the opportunity to read the script not too long ago, and this was totally how I experienced the characters' interactions, and how I felt most people on social media communicated over the past, very politically divisive, year. I enjoy when Meryl does movies with a political bent to them. And in this one she's kind of the villain! Watching her channel her own version of a conservative president is going to be incredibly entertaining. 

No word yet on when Netflix plans for a release, but fourth quarter of this year seems likely. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Recasting 2012: "Saving Mr. Banks"

In February of 2012, Disney was finalizing a deal to purchase the rights to the Blacklisted script, Saving Mr. Banks. Both Tom Hanks and Meryl were rumored as being eyed to star as Walt Disney and P.L. Travers. I posted about it at the time of course, which happened to be about a week before Meryl was officially confirmed to star in August: Osage County. Both films were ultimately filmed around the same time later that year. This was likely what prevented Streep from participating in Banks, as it's been reported that Emma Thompson was hired after the studio was "unable to secure" Streep. 

Knowing how long of a process it had been to get Banks to the screen, had it been ready six months earlier, it's reasonable to expect that it could've been released in late 2012, a year earlier than its original release. Similar to The Last Station, I had written up Saving Mr. Banks in my Shoulda Coulda Wouldas tag as a film I wanted to include in my Reimagined Filmography of Streep's screen career. With this new project, however, I get to move Banks to a parallel filmography that doesn't overextend what would've been a very tight shooting schedule. 

The film depicts the story of P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, and the tedious process Walt Disney undertook to secure the film rights to the story in 1961. Travers is against almost all of the creative team's plans and suggestions--loathing songs, the idea of animation, and basically anything that doesn't seem to fit the literal depictions of what she's created in her books. We come to learn that the story of Mary Poppins is a deeply personal one for Travers, particularly with the relationship shown between the children and the seemingly uninvolved father. Multiple flashbacks show a young Travers in Australia, where she idolizes her alcoholic father (played by Coin Farrell), and is devastated when he succumbs to tuberculosis. 

It's nice at the end when we get a better look behind the harsh facade. Thompson has stated in interviews that this role was one of the best she's ever had, due to the character's complexity, and often unpredictable and contradictory behavior. I reread my Shoulda Coulda Woulda post, and I agree with what I said then, that Thompson was a little one note for much of the film. Yes, Travers is supposed to be cantankerous and prickly, but I would've liked to get a better sense of the conflict in her from an earlier start. The flashbacks sort of do some of that work for us, but I can't help but wonder how Meryl would've approached that tricky inner dilemma. It's bad enough that Travers has surrender her beloved story out of lack of money. On top of that, the sacred place she has for her aunt (on whom the character of Mary Poppins was largely based), is being threatened with a sugary, overly Los Angeles-y screen depiction that she detests. There's a lot to work with there. 

The film garnered good reviews and was a great box office success. Anything related to Disney is going to find its audience. Streep is a better known actress, so it's unlikely it would've fared any worse had she starred as Travers. Thompson hit all the precursor awards, only to be left out at the Oscars. Meryl missed BAFTA but received both Golden Globe and SAG nominations. Many believe her Academy Award nomination for August: Osage County that year was undeserved in Thompson's place. Personally, I think that's laughable, but still wish Thompson had been recognized as well. I wouldn't have minded if Amy Adams had missed for American Hustle to make room for them both. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Streep voices Martha Gellhorn in Hemingway documentary for PBS

Not exactly major news, but when I came across this the other day, my eyes sort of lit up. This coming Monday through Wednesday, PBS is going to air a three-part Ken Burns documentary on Ernest Hemingway. In Hemingway, Streep will voice the novelist's third of four wives, Martha Gellhorn. Herself a novelist and war correspondent, Gellhorn and Hemingway were married from 1940-1945. The other three wives are voiced by Keri Russell, Patricia Clarkson, and Mary Louise Parker, respectively. 

Meryl's participation in this project hearkens back to when she voiced former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in The Roosevelts, another Burns doc, back in 2014. I found Streep's work in that production to be one of her better "voices" we've heard, even if it wasn't for a character we could see. Gellhorn could be the subject of her own fascinating documentary, or (another) feature film for that matter. Nicole Kidman starred alongside Clive Owen in the HBO movie, Hemingway and Gellhorn.

Streep is sort of a dead ringer for Gellhorn, actually. I look forward to tuning in this week.