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. 


  1. I truly whish her second win is for Nomadland, not that Three Billboards.

  2. Just as many would wish Meryl had won for Devil Wears Prada rather than that dreadful Iron Lady.

  3. Great choice Jeff! I really recommend both "Olive" books to anyone interested, I really enjoyed them. I know what you mean about wondering how Meryl might have played certain scenes, it would have been exciting to see. I hope Frances ends up making another miniseries out of "Olive, Again" in time.

    For 2015 I'm a little stomped. In my imaginary filmography I have Meryl in an earlier adaptation of "The Price Of Salt" in 1993. Blanchett was excellent in the "Carol" version.

    For my pick, I choose "45 Years" a quiet but absorbing relationship drama opposite the ever-reliable Tom Courtenay. Meryl could have had it renamed "40 Years" as she is rather youthful looking!

    1. I really like 45 Years as well. Alas, I thought it wouldn't have been something Meryl would've done at that age. Same way I LOVE Julie Christie in Away from Her, but again, Meryl would've been too young likely for her to choose that role.

  4. Adam McKay just talked about Don’t Look Up a little more today! He said that the tone of the film will be somewhere between The Big Short and The Other Guys. Very interesting

  5. When Frances McDormand ended her 2018 Oscar acceptance speech with two words "Inclusion Rider", she looked straight into someone's eyes, a person who must have been sitting in the front row. Was it Meryl? She was there, front and centre. It's a moment in cinema history that is expanding outwards right now and will go on doing so. The 2021 Oscars were just the escalation of a new paradigm that has seen McDormand's statuette collection equal Hepburn's in just three years. Yes, for different categories, but that's the innovative part of what we're seeing. Inclusion wins Oscars. Loath as I am to admit it, and annoyed as I was that Close missed out again, McDormand's long game is a powerhouse. I like to imagine Meryl (who has been no slacker in the equal opportunity stakes) is re-grouping and rethinking for a final act in this New World.

    1. McDormand may very well have glanced at Meryl at the end of that speech in 2018. It's a smart move...Streep has the clout to add an inclusion rider into her contracts. I hope she does so.

      Time will tell of course what we'll see from Meryl in the next decade. I do expect that she'll say yes to a lot of projects. And I'm rethinking my opinion on whether or not she'll produce more. She's listed as a producer on Places, Please. I doubt she'll do so to the extent McDormand has in the past 7-8 years, but then, she's never needed to to get the best parts. But I don't think Meryl will want to be left by the wayside if at any point that looks to be changing for her.