Thursday, December 1, 2022

Recasting 1997 (supporting): "The Ice Storm"

Released a decade apart, two of my all-time favorite films, Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain, wouldn't seem to have much in common at first glance. I suspect most folks wouldn't necessarily think these two movies could possibly be directed by the same person. But they were indeed. As was Hulk, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Life of Pi. It's perhaps this broad pallet of storytelling that's interested in me in so many Ang Lee films, and why I was therefore happy to be able to find a role in one of his movies that would reasonably fit well into this project. 

The Ice Storm was adapted from Rick Moody's 1994 novel of the same name. The story follows a pair of families around Thanksgiving in 1973 Connecticut, at a time when a general malaise was apparently falling over much of suburban America. The Nixon White House was a source of national tension, and experimentation with drugs, alcohol and casual sex had carried over from the free love era of the 60s. Here we meet two couples, the Hoods and the Carvers, disillusioned in their own marriages and yearning for meaning, purpose, or simply excitement in their lives, that they begin to seek it out elsewhere. Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) and Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver) happen to find some semblance of what they're looking for in each other's arms. Once their affair is discovered by Ben's wife Elena (Joan Allen), things fall apart at a "key party" (where couples swap partners for a night) and tragedy befalls the Carvers when they discover their son has been electrocuted during an ice storm the same night. 


I feel like there's a bit of a trend I've identified in my selections in both this supporting and my previous lead recasting project in regard to a type of role Meryl tends to not do. That of a character who's role is to some degree based on her sex appeal. Off the top of my head, I can't really think of roles for which Meryl really does that. We can identify many from contemporaries like Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon and Sigourney Weaver. Not that Meryl can't inhabit a character like that, just that she either doesn't want to for any number of reasons (perhaps that she's been lucky enough not to have to rely on that type of casting), or that she may not feel like it's a kind of performance she's able to give. I think of her small role in Lisa Kudrow's web series Web Therapy, where she played a gay-conversion therapist. She conveyed a sort of conservative, very stereotypically cisgendered female sex appeal. She was a bit buxom, and it was effective. 

The complexity of the role of Janey Carver of course goes far beyond her sex appeal, however. I've watched the movie a couple of times at this point, and I still have questions about her mind and her motivations. What I break it down to is that she's basically bored. She's bored with her suburban home, family and husband. She's super smart and is unchallenged by the crop of characters in her neighborhood, and she almost becomes a bit of a hedonist. A hedonist without much concern about what she does and whom she hurts. It's not quite as bad as a sociopath, but the detachment she demonstrates from the types of problems and feelings of others (including those she's had a hand in creating), suggests she's either hurting quite a bit in her own way, or that she just doesn't possess or have the ability to show those feelings. That's exactly the kind of tricky thing I'd love to see Meryl unpack were she to have had the opportunity to portray this character. 

While sort of a quiet movie at the box office, The Ice Storm was highly praised by critics, particularly for its directing and performances of the cast. Youngsters Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes and Adam Hann-Byrd (Little Man Tate) do wonderful jobs in their respective roles. Weaver was nominated for a Golden Globe for Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, and won the BAFTA. Sadly, she missed out on an Academy Award nomination. Were it not for writer and regular commenter on this site, Michael Burge, mentioning this movie during my lead recasting project, I never would've even known it existed. That's a sad commentary on how under-remembered and under-appreciated this beautiful movie was and remains to this day. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Recasting 1996 (supporting): "The Birdcage"

For 1996, I shamelessly poach my third and I promise final Dianne Wiest role. In reality, this and my previous recasting project aren't really a suggestion that the originators for any given role were wrong for the role or miscast. So I'm not really imagining or wishing that I could've snatched these roles from other ladies (I leave that for certain selections in my reimagined filmography). But I know that we all have our favorites, and that it's easy and natural for us to get a little possessive over certain movies or parts. I'm that way with certain films even when I'm considering them for a project like this (Steel Magnolias, Sense & Sensibility for example). And yet I still feel a need to add a little disclaimer if/when I seem to be targeting roles by certain actresses repeatedly (see Helen Mirren in my lead recasting project). Consider it a testament to how wonderful these respective actors are that I'd love to see what Meryl could do with the same character!

Moving on. Mike Nichols's comedy The Birdcage is another of one of the first films in my recasting projects that I remember actually seeing in the theater (I think 1995's Copycat was the first I had mentioned). Looking back, I'm a little surprised that I had gone. It seems like a no-brainer that a closeted gay kid in a small farm town would want to go to a film as flamboyant and colorful as The Birdcage, and maybe that's how I actually felt at the time. But when I look back, I feel I would've been a bit cagey (pardon the pun) about disclosing to anyone that this was in fact the movie a neighbor friend and I were planning to see. When I rewatch the film now, I can't help but picture an uncle of mine who lived with his partner in Las Vegas for many years and ran a bar. I can only imagine the shenanigans that went on in a big city known for its entertainment industry, much like the way the main characters live in this movie. 

Robin Williams plays Armand Goldman, an owner of a drag club in Miami, whose partner Albert (Nathan Lane) happens to be the club's headliner. Armand's son from a one-night stand twenty years prior, Val (Dan Futterman), is planning to marry the daughter (Calista Flockhart) of a conservative senator from Ohio (portrayed by Gene Hackman), and an embarrassingly funny meeting between all the "parents" takes place at Armand and Albert's "straightified" apartment. 

Wiest of course plays Louise Keeley, Senator Keeley's buttoned-up wife. One thing I like about this role is that it's so different from the previous couple of roles I've selected in this project. Louise is a prim woman who's mostly in the background of her husband's ambition, dressed like a Pilgrim and more interested in whether her daughter's potential in-laws are of the right breeding than whether her daughter will actually be happy. But she's not a monster. And she's actually more of a thinker than her narrow-minded husband is. What's wild is how the pair's naivete about how others live their lives leaves them open to more easily being bamboozled by such ridiculous cover-ups of the reality their hosts are trying to hide. 


The parody of the closed-minded right-wingers sadly rings true even more clearly today. The comedy is undeniable here, and borders on farce with how far-fetched the situation is. I have a strong feeling that Meryl might have played Louise (probably not completely unlike Wiest does), as a woman who may actually have more moderate or even liberal views, but is married to someone who trumpets his own in the opposite direction so much that she sort of gets lost in playing the part of political wife, which we know likely stifles a lot of people's natural instincts, choices and behaviors. 

It's interesting that when my husband and I watched this movie during the pandemic, we were a bit distracted by how if the movie had come out today, we'd probably consider the son, Val, the villain. It's one thing to ask your parents to be on their best behavior when you bring someone home for them to meet. It's another to ask them to completely deny who they are and whom they love. Yes, the stakes are quite high in this scenario, but if Val were to actually go through with marrying Barbara, it's not like the families wouldn't have to meet again. And again, and again. Would this charade be endless? When would Armand and Albert get to be themselves when the Keeleys have been afforded the opportunity from the start? It made us a little peeved. But yes, we've come a long way, and The Birdcage likely did way more good than bad for opening up people's minds to families that don't all look the same. 

The Birdcage was an enormous box office success. Against its budget of $31 million, it grossed $185 million. It also did well with critics, with much of the praise heaped on Nathan Lane's hilarious performance. He was nominated for a Golden Globe and SAG Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, and the entire cast won the SAG Ensemble Award. Wiest did score a win in Supporting Actress from the American Comedy Awards, back when they were still a thing and a lot of people still watched them. 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

No "Big Little Lies" season 3?

Multiple sources are reporting that Big Little Lies cast member Zoë Kravitz was quoted in a GQ interview recently that the possibility of season 3 of the hit HBO series was "done." Other members of the cast have held out hope that they'd all be brought back together for another season, with Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Laura Dern all saying that they'd be up for it. But Kravitz cites last year's death of director Jean-Marc Vallée as the reason they won't be going forward. Vallée directed all the episodes of the first season and stayed on creatively in the second season under Andrea Arnold's direction. 

This makes sense. And although I'm a bit surprised by how frank and final Kravitz's take is on the likelihood of another season, I've been sort of hoping they don't do another one. It's not even a certainty that Meryl would've been involved anyway. Considering we can't even get info about when her latest project, Extrapolations, will be released on Apple TV+, I guess we shouldn't be super surprised that this is just one more project that we can be confident will not in fact go forward. 

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Recasting 1995 (supporting): "Rob Roy"

1995 is definitely remembered more for a different movie that took place in Scotland. While Rob Roy is a fine movie, it naturally gets overshadowed by Mel Gibson's epic, Braveheart. It reminds me quite a bit of my lead recasting choice for the same year. Copycat had a similar psychological thriller appeal to David Fincher's Seven, with the latter deservedly gobbling up more of the attention that year. Still, we're here for the role, not just for the movie, and the character of Mary MacGregor in Rob Roy makes for an interesting prospect when imagining Meryl in it.

Originated by the great Jessica Lange, Mary is wife to Robert MacGregor (Liam Neeson), a clan chief in the Scottish Highlands who takes out a loan to alleviate the poverty of his people. When the money is stolen by the garish aristocrat Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth), MacGregor is forced to go into hiding to avoid punishment or death. 

From the get-go, it's pretty easy to see why Meryl was not in this movie. Quick side note: according to IMDb, Lange replaced Miranda Richardson (an actor from whom I've thieved two roles already in this supporting recasting project). For one, Meryl wasn't really much for supporting roles in the 80s and 90s. And while I expect she would've jumped at the chance to prove her chops at a Scottish accent, the role is more risky than she tended to accept. I'm reminded of the Lange role in Blue Sky I chose for 1992 in the lead project. The character was sensual, overtly at times, and Meryl tends to not go there much. It's like the opposite of the kinds of movies we'd picture Isabelle Huppert doing, like Elle, for example. The sex stuff might turn Meryl off from the role. Or maybe she doesn't feel she could play it convincingly. It's all the more reason for me to want to see how she'd do. 

It's perhaps natural to assume that films (especially ones from thirty years ago or earlier), tend to only exploit women's sexuality for box office draw. While that's no doubt true in many or perhaps even most cases, I came across a quote Lange gave that suggests this particular role is far from that:

I loved that the writer, Alan Sharp, had created a female character in a predominantly male film that was every bit as interesting as the male characters. She has a wonderful sensuality, vulnerability, strength and intelligence. In the relationship with her husband, she’s on equal footing. And it’s such a purely female/male relationship. That’s rare in films today. There’s nothing modern or neurotic about their marriage.

That kind of character I can absolutely see Meryl being interested in. Like most women in the 18th century, even if Mary was on equal footing with her husband, she unfortunately was easy prey for depraved men in power. In an attempt to flush out her husband from hiding, Mary is brutally raped by Cunningham before he home is burned down (rape not shown below).   


God bless Jessica Lange, but that accent is rough. OK we have to talk about Tim Roth for a second. He is probably the best thing about this movie. His characterization of the conniving "Archie" is one of the best performances I think I've ever seen. He's just SO good in the role. It's not surprising that he won the BAFTA and was nominated for the Oscar for his portrayal. Every emotion we feel for any of the main characters in this movie is enhanced by how convincing Roth is. Exceptional performance. 

Aside from the accolades for Roth, critics weren't exactly thrilled with the movie. It was by no means panned, as it holds a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 55 score on Metacritic. It made a few bucks at the box office as well, earning back its budget and then some. With its spring release, I can't help but wonder how this would've done in the fall when more Oscar contenders tend to hit theaters. Overall, I think it's an underappreciated film and well worth the watch. 

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Where is "Extrapolations"?

Knowing that filming started over a hear ago, I've been under the working assumption that Apple TV+ will be releasing their anthology series, Extrapolations, sometime in 2022. We're well into the first week of November now, and we've still heard next to nothing about a date. No trailer, so production stills. Should we be starting to think that this might be pushed to 2023?

It's hard to say. There are some limited series that have not really done a ton of promotion, only to release a trailer and announce that it'll premiere in a matter of two or three weeks. The interesting thing to me is that if this production were going to be in consideration for awards, the Golden Globes (which return to NBC after their temporary "cancellation") will air on January 10 of next year. Submissions are already due Monday, with nominations expected to be announced December 12. It's hard to picture Extrapolations getting in under that deadline. 

I'm not sure why info about the show in general has been so stingy. We know very little about any of the characters or real details of the storyline. At least Apple TV+ now has it listed on its website with the tag "coming at a later date." Super specific. 

Here's hoping we get something about this soon. It's been quite a while since we've endured a Meryl project drought of this level. 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Recasting 1994 (supporting): "Bullets Over Broadway"

For 1994 in this series, I've chosen my second of three roles originated by the great Dianne Wiest (Parenthood). Woody Allen's dark comedy Bullets Over Broadway takes place in Prohibition-era New York and follows an aspiring playwright, David Shayne (John Cusack), who, in order to get his latest play produced, has to say yes to casting a mob boss's girlfriend, Olive (Jennifer Tilly), in one of the roles. Wiest's character is Helen Sinclair, a past-her-prime alcoholic theater star who is cast in a lead role in the play. 

I watched the film for the second time this past week, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it even more this time around. I hadn't quite remembered how snappy the dialogue was, and how many long takes many of the scenes incorporated. Despite Cusack's lead performance, this really does feel very much like an ensemble film. The characters are all so distinctly drawn (as eccentric as they may be), and as a group they weave together a fast-paced storyline from their individual narratives.  

Although Allen had Wiest in mind when writing the script, the character of Helen would've been a fun one for Streep to sink her teeth into. It's more than the fact that she's a bit larger than life. She gets to negotiate some interesting interactions as a romance bubbles between her and Cusack's young character, and in the relationships she settles into with her fellow, often grating, castmates. Her reactions to Tilly's character and the handful of scenes she has with Tracey Ullman are laugh-out-loud funny to me. 

But it really does boil down to the broad, dramatic and theatrical aspects of Helen that make her memorable. She's also very smart, and as a seasoned pro, is extremely far from naive. She doesn't hesitate to let her mind be known, as stinging as it may be to anyone in her way. Wiest's delivery of the line "Don't speak," has become iconic at this point. 


Of course, Helen is essentially manipulating her director in order to get him to implement the changes she finds necessary to make her character a passable one. And she's got the skills to do it. When mob strongman Cheech (Chaz Palminteri) ends up making script changes that everyone in the cast thinks are the director's, Helen and the rest of the cast's praise at the adjustments only serve in making David insecure about his possible lack of talent, as he realizes his work is second class to a guy's who barely learned to read. Lots for any actor playing Helen to do. 

Wiest's memorable portrayal stood out in this picture more than any of the other actors. While it's definitely a supporting character, in a different time and with Meryl in the role, I could almost have seen them pushing her in lead.  The movie was a huge critical success and a modest financial one. Wiest deservedly won her second Oscar for her performance, while both Tilly and Palminteri were nominated in supporting as well (neither winning). While Wiest missed out on a BAFTA nomination (not surprising to me as this is a VERY American film), she pretty much swept the awards season that year, also winning the Globe, the SAG (in its inaugural year), L.A. Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Circle, and National Society of Film Critics awards, among others. 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Recasting 1993 (supporting) "In the Name of the Father"

I've always wanted to see Meryl work alongside Daniel Day-Lewis. For a brief time I considered The Age of Innocence as a possible recasting option (which would've also covered working with Martin Scorsese), but ultimately, no role in that movie seemed realistic. Same with Lincoln. While Sally Field and Meryl are similar ages, Sally is too perfect a fit (even though she's a fair amount older than Day-Lewis and Mary Todd was a fair amount younger than Lincoln) for that role to be realistic in my mind either. 

Jim Sheridan's 1993 biopic of the Guildford Four, In the Name of the Father, offers a nice option to imagine teaming Streep with Day-Lewis. The film follows Gerry Conlon, an Irishman from Belfast who is wrongly imprisoned in 1970s Great Britain after being convicted for IRA bombings. In a role originated by Emma Thompson, Streep would've portrayed attorney Gareth Peirce, who uncovers evidence that leads to Gerry's release and exoneration. Sadly, Gerry's father, who had been sent to prison on terrorist charges related to Gerry's conviction, died in prison before the convictions could be overturned. 

The role is actually rather small. Peirce is shown early on in the film listening to Conlon's tape recording of his side of the story. But we don't really see much of her again until the last quarter of the film. There are a handful of brief scenes with Day-Lewis, which is nice, but the meat and potatoes of the performance comes in the courtroom, where Peirce unveils the new-found evidence and embarrasses the crooked Inspector, Robert Dixon. 

It's an emotional, passionate scene, and Thompson plays it very well. I don't think we've ever seen Meryl as a lawyer in a courtroom scene. It's a genre I've been a fan of for a long time (A Few Good Men, Primal Fear, lots of John Grisham movies), so would be fun to see Meryl sink her teeth into a role with the kind of smart punch such scenes often provide. 

I realize this is the second film in a row I've chosen that would require Meryl to do a British accent. It's also the second film in a row that arguably wouldn't have gotten a ton of notice had it not been for a very intense scene during the film's denouement. No matter. They're both great roles in great scenes in great movies. It's a win-win.

In the Name of the Father was universally acclaimed by critics and earned over $65 million at the box office against a budget of only $13 million. It received seven Academy Award nominations (winning none), including Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Supporting Actor (for Pete Postlethwaite's stunning performance as Conlon's father Giuseppe). Thompson earned a nod for Supporting Actress as well, losing out to Anna Paquin for another recasted Streep film, The Piano

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Recasting 1992 (supporting): "Damage"

I wasn't necessarily expecting that I'd be choosing two Miranda Richardson roles within five years for this project, but here we are. For a long time, I think I remembered the trailer (we called them previews back then) for 1992's psychological thriller Damage more than I did the film itself. I watched parts of it on fuzzy HBO when I was probably 13, thinking it was mostly just a guy and lady doing it a lot. It seemed the type of movie you'd see on late night Cinemax than one that earns BAFTA and Academy Award-nominations. I probably should've watched more closely. 

Having subsequently seen it a couple more times as an adult, I'm fully able to appreciate the film's prowess. Quick sidebar, I have to make a brief mention of how "1992" this movie is. The wardrobe and styling are very easy to date, but very chic at the same time. Binoche in particular is stunning in her slim black frocks and severe hair. Anyway, directed by Louis Malle (Atlantic City), the film follows Stephen, a physician-turned-politician (Jeremy Irons) who becomes involved in a lurid affair with his son Martyn's (Rupert Graves) girlfriend, Anna (Juliette Binoche). Miranda Richardson portrays Stephen's wife, Ingrid, who identifies something suspicious about Anna. When Anna and Martyn decide to get engaged, Anna's mother joins in the preparation and spots signs of the affair between Stephen and Anna. Stephen plans to end the relationship, but he hooks up with Anna again at an apartment. Martyn happens upon them and in shock, backs up over a railing and plummets to his death. 

It's in the aftermath of Martyn's death that we really get to see the acting chops of Miranda Richardson. Had it not been for this one scene, she (or likely any other actor in the role) would've been very unlikely to receive award recognition of any kind:


"The pain was unbearable. I was beating myself." Whoa. She's not only lost her son, but as a result of her husband's infidelity with her son's fiancée. Ingrid is from a prominent family and her husband is a public figure. It's an incredible betrayal. It's gripping how she so confidently conveys to her husband that he should've killed himself when he first realized he couldn't stop himself so that she could have at least mourned. He's taken that from her as well. The look on Richardson's face when she drops to her knees and clenches her fists is one of the most powerful moments of acting out a devastating human experience that I can recall ever seeing onscreen. Her eyes are almost wild...behind a haze of despair that may be singular to mothers who've lost their children. Well done. 

Let's switch gears for a second and address the age issue. Rupert Graves was born when Meryl was 14. That's certainly a bit of a stretch, but not totally egregious. Miranda Richardson, however, is merely five years older than Graves. That's a bit ridiculous, even for thirty years ago, when women seemed to be often relegated to granny roles after they hit 35. We probably wouldn't really guess though, watching this movie. Rupert Graves has a total baby face, and Richardson, while beautiful, has a presence and mature confidence about her that make her believable as this guy's mum. 

The film did fairly well with critics and despite being a bit of an art-house movie, it made some money at the box office (sex has always been a big draw). The greatest praise went to Richardson, earning Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, and winning both the BAFTA and top prize from the New York Film Critics Circle. Ultimately, this film probably would've been way too risky compared to the type of fare Meryl usually signed onto. But all the more exciting it would've been to see her in the role!

 

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Recasting 1991 (supporting): "The Prince of Tides"

For a while, I had been seriously considering choosing this film for my original "lead" recasting project a couple of years ago. I've been a fan of The Prince of Tides since I was in college, when I can remember checking it out from the catalogue of VHS tapes held behind my dorm's front desk. I thought better of the lead recasting, however, when I realized that the role of Dr. Lowenstein (portrayed by Barbra Streisand, who also directed the picture) wasn't all that great of a character to me. Streisand did a wonderful job in the role, of course. But it ultimately became more appealing to me to picture Meryl being directed by Streisand, and taking on a part with a bit more meat to it, that of the social-climbing, manipulative Southern mother, Lila Wingo.  

Based on Pat Conroy's best-selling novel, the story follows Tom Wingo (Nick Nolte), who leaves his home in South Carolina to visit his twin sister Savannah in New York after she's attempted suicide (again). Streisand portrays Savannah's psychiatrist, Susan, and she and Tom develop a romantic relationship. In his discussions with Dr. Lowenstein, Tom slowly reveals the details of he and his siblings' tragic upbringing, including the resultant tumultuous relationship with their mother. I read an interview with Kate Nelligan (who portrays Lila) around the time of the film's release, and she described the hesitation she and Streisand had about ageing the character from her late twenties to her sixties. They had originally tested older actresses for the older "version" of Lila, but ultimately decided to use makeup to age Nelligan. I think they made the right choice, as Nelligan (even with early 90s makeup) was believable in both time periods. She is less than a year younger than Meryl as well, so it would've been equally as doable for Meryl in the role. See comparison between the two videos below. 




This second video shows Tom discussing "Callanwolde," the prison from which three convicts escaped and sexually traumatized the Wingo family. Imagine having to endure getting raped, seeing your mother and your sister raped, watching your brother kill the perpetrators, and then being told that you can NEVER speak of it. They didn't even tell their father, who was absent at the time of the incident. Whatever kind of pathology that burdened Lila to the point that she felt the best thing to do for her family was to insist that "this never happened," it's amazing that she's able to rationalize her choices by saying she simply doesn't dwell on the past. There's a sad sort of selfishness in that. She put her own desire for upward social mobility in the way of the health and wellness of her children. It didn't even seem like she behaved like she was all that traumatized herself by what happened. But maybe she was? Maybe it's too easy to judge the choice she made to stifle her children's communication about what had happened to them, when she had no other way to deal with her own pain from the experience. It's hard to say. But that would've been an interesting angle to explore for an actor. 

The Prince of Tides was a critical and commercial success. It garnered seven Academy Award nominations, although many were left raising an eyebrow that despite its Best Picture nom, Streisand was left off the directing list. Nelligan deservedly scored a nomination for Best Supporting Actress and was runner-up with the New York Film Critics Circle. I enjoy the movie to this day, and have more recently enjoyed teasing out the nuances in Nelligan's careful performance. 


Saturday, October 1, 2022

Recasting 1990 (supporting): "Goodfellas"

 In a 2015 interview, Meryl Streep said of director Martin Scorsese: 

I would like Martin Scorsese to be interested in a female character once in a while. But I don't know if I'll live that long.

This was Meryl's response when asked if there are any directors she'd like to work with. The quote might be a bit disingenuous from Meryl, as there are plenty of female characters in his films (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Casino, The Age of Innocence). But she has a point that women are almost exclusively relegated to supporting roles in his films. I personally doubt she'll ever be in a film directed by Scorsese, although I've had dreams of him directing her in a biopic of Greta Garbo's last years. It's therefore been an interest of mine to identify a role to recast from a Scorsese film for this project. As much as I enjoy The Age of Innocence, there just wasn't a part that seemed suitable for either lead or supporting. 

Which brings us to Goodfellas. Based on the 1985 nonfiction crime book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi (who co-penned the screenplay with Scorsese), the film follows the life of Henry Hill, a New York gangster from the 1950s to 1980s. Portrayed by Ray Liotta, Hill embroils himself in the work of a Mafia family, run by Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino). Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci portray Paulie's associates, who end up working closely with Henry and developing close friendships with him. Henry falls for a Jewish girl from Brooklyn, Karen (portrayed by Lorraine Bracco), and it's this role into which I'm inserting Meryl for recasting. 

I'm always aware of age when choosing roles in these recasting projects. I had thought at first that this might be a bit "young" for her. But Bracco is only five years younger than Meryl, and knowing that the film takes place over the course of a couple decades, the majority of the film depicts Karen at an age that would've been no problem at all for Meryl to convincingly portray (Meryl would've turned 40 during filming). 

It also would've simply been a fun character to dig into. Karen is no shrinking violet. But she enters into the mob world naively and with trepidation. Confusion about how almost isolated and homogeneous the "family" of people she and her husband associate with slowly deteriorates as she acclimates to their way of life. Some fear seems to go along with it, but she also finds that she's turned on by Henry's violent protection of her. This all ends up getting the best of her however, as the family unit she hoped to maintain is inevitably shattered by both Henry's infidelity and the growing danger of encroaching law enforcement. 


Karen's just a lost and desperate woman here. It's an intense scene and would've been fun to see how Meryl played it. And wow that Brooklyn accent is thick. The role is a pretty decent-sized one for being supporting. But like most gangster movies, this one is dominated by the men. Karen is in pretty deep by the end of the movie, trying to flush pounds of cocaine down the toilet to avoid her husband (and family) getting pinched. What we do for love. 

Goodfellas was tremendously successful with critics. And while not a huge box office smash, it earned $47 million on a $25 million budget domestically. It garnered six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. Joe Pesci won for his supporting role, while Bracco of course scored a nom as well (losing out to Whoopie Goldberg in Ghost). The Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2000. 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

What happened last summer?

The current lull in Meryl project news has been one of the longest I can remember since I started this blog. She took all of 2016 off from filming, but Florence Foster Jenkins came out that summer, she ended up getting nominated for it in the winter, and a few months later we had news of the The Post which was then released nine months later). She hasn't filmed a movie since late 2020 (maybe into January 2021). We're still waiting for news on when exactly Extrapolations will be released on Apple TV+, but even with that, her role in it may be small. 

All this recently got me thinking about the fact that as late as spring of 2021, a lot of us were reasonably expecting that Meryl would be filming Places, Please in the summer, with the additional possibility of two supporting roles in Damien Chazelle's Babylon and Ari Aster's Disappointment Blvd. Both of the latter two projects filmed in the summer.  And with them both being smaller roles, I suspect Meryl's filming contract could've carved out schedule for her to participate had she wanted to. Alas, Places, Please never happened and Jean Smart and Patti LuPone ended up taking the roles Meryl would've likely been up for in Babylon and Disappointment Blvd., respectively.

The fact that Places, Please was announced in February 2021 with an expected summer filming schedule (director attached) makes me think that they had all the financing in place. There may have been other people already cast as well for all we know. If memory serves, Smart and LuPone were both announced fairly late, relative to the rest of their respective cast members and projected filming schedules. So it makes me wonder when pulling it all together: did something happen last summer?

This is all speculative, of course. But it doesn't seem that wild to picture a life event that may have made Meryl unavailable for several months mid last year. Maybe a health issue, maybe a family issue, maybe some other personal reason. I doubt it would've been because of any Covid reason, as she seemed on board to film Places, Please and she had shot Don't Look Up a few months prior when cases were surging. And then she did a fair amount of press late last year for Don't Look Up, so she seemed fine then.

Whatever reason it didn't start as planned, maybe Places, Please lost some of the cast they had in place and they couldn't just pick up where they had left off this year instead. Maybe Meryl just wanted a longer break and had decided to say no to the aforementioned projects or even others we've never heard of. Or maybe she was never actually cast in Babylon or Disappointment Blvd. and Places, Please just ended up going into development hell. The latter scenario is probably the most plausible. But of course I can't help my brain from wondering, and then of course typing those hypotheses into this blog! 

Fingers crossed we get some news about something (anything!) soon. 

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Recasting 1989 (supporting): "Parenthood"

This might end up being one of my favorite choices during this project, and the first of (spoiler!) more than one Dianne Wiest role I'm selecting. Ron Howard's comedy-drama has been one of my favorites since I was a child. I think I've said before on this blog (I don't remember exactly for which lead recasting selection), that it's interesting to re-watch films as an adult that I enjoyed so much as a kid. Particularly when the film includes children characters who were about the same age as I was when I watched it. Parenthood is definitely one of those movies. And it's a bit funny that when I see it now, I'm pretty much the same age as all the parents. While I'm myself childless, I definitely identify with the parents' struggles with their families and careers paths, a fun turn from my original point of view as a relatively responsibility-free elementary school student. 

The film weaves several concurrent storylines of an extended family in St. Louis, the Buckmans. Helen (Wiest) is a divorced bank manager who struggles with her teen daughter Julie (Martha Plimpton) running away and getting married/pregnant, and her pubescent son, Garry (Joaquin Phoenix) whom she suspects is doing drugs but is really just carting around porn tapes and in need of a male role model. We see Helen's older brother Gil (Steve Martin) struggle with a child with mental illness. Her younger sister, Susan, is in a marriage where her husband's attention is mostly focused on their prodigy five year-old. And a younger brother, Larry, a screw up gambler who shows up out of nowhere with a young black child (a detail that raised more eyebrows thirty years ago than it likely would now) after no one has seen him in years. One of my favorite scenes in all of cinema is when Julie's sex photos of her and her boyfriend get mixed up with Helen's photos from a promotion at the bank:

 

"And we have the picture's to prove it!" Get's me every time.

None of the family's problems are necessarily out of this world complicated or threatening (except for maybe Larry's life being threatened by teamsters). Most of us have experienced similar conflicts ourselves, or at least have a family member or friend who've gone through something similar. What makes it so interesting is that these are folks who, on the surface, probably have it pretty good. They live in the suburban United States and aren't really worrying about things like putting food on the table or searching for shelter. Very first-world problems. But it's a testament to the fact that despite having the basics, if we don't have stable familial relationships, the threads all too often start to wear. And of course, this film very adeptly succeeds at making it funny and relatable. 

Parenthood was a huge success with both audiences and critics. On a $20 million budget, it earned $126 million at the global box-office. The film was also a critical darling, with a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score of 82, indicating "universal acclaim." Wiest deservedly scored Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for her performance. I had thought at first that Meryl might have been a bit young for this role. Wiest is only a little over a year older than she is, but the mother of a seventeen year-old seemed a stretch for Meryl in 1989. She would've been 39 at the time of filming. But having kids in your early 20s wasn't nearly as young-seeming in the early 70s as it is these days. It actually might have been something that helped inform Meryl's performance had she found herself among the amazing ensemble cast members of this film. 

 

Saturday, September 10, 2022

"Don't Look Up" wins Humanitas Prize

It was announced yesterday that Don't Look Up has been awarded the Humanitas Prize for Comedy Feature Film. Since 1973, the prize has been awarded "to empower television and film writers whose work explores the human condition in a nuanced, meaningful way." Other winners this year include TV series Black-ish, limited series Pachinko, and animated film Encanto. The award includes a cash prize to the winners' writers (Adam McKay in this case for Don't Look Up).

I've mentioned this before, but it's been nice that despite not being a critical darling last year, Don't Look Up has sort of created a nice little legacy for itself already. It's one of the best-performing films on Netflix in history, and it continues to be recognized for its allegorical message on the perils of climate change. I'm here for it. And it seems the type of thing Meryl is really passionate about. Makes me even more interested to see how Extrapolations turns out this fall. Now can we get a trailer and release date already?!


Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Recasting 1988 (supporting): "Working Girl"

We're back on track with a more conventional, well-known selection. It's known that Meryl was in consideration for the role of Katharine Parker in Mike Nichols's 1988 dramedy, Working Girl. I've been a fan of this movie dating back to high school. My mom brought it home on VHS one day and it's been a favorite of ours since. Having first seen it nearly a decade after its release, I had forgotten how popular the sort of Wall Street picture was in the 80s. Secret of My Success, Big Business, Wall Street. They're all movies from around that time that I enjoyed, not really realizing they were so representative of the Zeitgeist, with unchecked capitalism and corporate greed all the rage.  

The film follows Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), who's trying to work her way up the corporate ladder in New York City. After she's set up on a would-be business meeting that turns out to be more like an audition on a Hollywood casting couch, she quits and is offered a secretary position for Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver). Tess and Katharine are both about to turn 30 (a stretch for Sigourney and Meryl in 1988), with Tess a few days older. There's an interesting dynamic between the two from the start, with Tess acknowledging that she's never worked for a woman before, nor (presumably) for someone younger. Katharine seems, at first, to be the kind of boss who's going to not only not be a total douche bag tyrant, but also a mentor to Tess in the business. Not so much, as it turns out. 

I watched this movie for the first time in years a couple weeks ago with Joe. I'm sure I've seen it since The Devil Wears Prada came out, but during this most recent viewing, I was immediately struck by the comparisons to be made between the two characters of Katharine Parker and Miranda Priestly. Yes, they're both successful business women in important positions with a female assistant. But there's an interesting paradox in how they're both initially perceived, and then actually turn out to be. The first time we see Katharine is a watered-down version of Meryl's entrance in The Devil Wears Prada, where everyone in the office is sort of laid back until she arrives. But unlike Miranda, Katharine stops to politely introduce herself to her new employee, and early on she makes it known that she's open to Tess's ideas. But when Tess offers a good idea, Katharine (who up to this point we see as a bit snobby but not necessarily evil) shows her true colors and steals the idea. Miranda Priestly wouldn't deign to be as accommodating as Katharine seems to be, but we never get the sense that she's unethical. She might be a bit ruthless, but what you see is what you get with Miranda. Katharine's actually kind of a bad person (not that the men in her business aren't, necessarily) for what she does to Tess. Maybe that's what it takes for someone to reach the position she's reached. But I suspect not. It would've been a fun thing to witness Meryl negotiating this character. I can see her getting the audience to maintain a bit of sympathy or understanding for Katharine, despite her poor treatment of Tess. 

Of course there's a love triangle between Harrison Ford's character, Jack Trainer, and Tess and Katharine. It sort of raises the stakes and adds to the dislike we get for Katharine, now that Jack and Tess have sort of become an item while Katharine was recouping from her skiing accident.  

That scene is so well-played by Weaver. We definitely don't see Meryl portraying characters quite that overtly and confidently sexual. And we certainly don't see her in lingerie. I wonder how close she got to being in this movie. Knowing that she was "considered" could mean a lot of things. She and Mike Nichols had already done Silkwood and Heartburn together. It's certainly possible that she'd read the script. I wonder if she had, if the scene above would've given her pause in considering participating. Alas, we'll probably never know. 

Working Girl did well with critics and was a big box office hit. It received a total of six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Director. Griffith and Weaver both received noms as well, along with Joan Cusack, who hilariously portrays Tess's friend, Cynthia. Weaver won the Golden Globe for her performance, a year she famously scored two wins, the other for lead in Gorillas in the Mist.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Streep to attend gala in honor of Robert de Niro

Several sources are reporting that Meryl will be attending "A Celebration of Film" at the University of Texas on September 24 to honor Robert De Niro. De Niro has apparently provided a portion of the endowment to the University's film preservation archives, and they're holding a gala to raise additional funds. 

I normally don't report on news like this. I prefer to mostly keep my posts to items relating to Meryl's screen career. Not that it's ever a bad idea to promote good works or charitable contributions, but it's not really the goal of this blog to cover Streep's activities unrelated to her own work. I thought I'd make an exception in this case, however, since we've heard almost nothing about her since the very early part of the year. I've seen speculation online that she's critically ill, that she's decided to retire, that she's separated from her husband. I guess any of those could technically be true for all I know (I doubt any of them are), but I was pleased to see that Meryl is alive and likely well and likely just taking one of her usual extended breaks from filming. 

I'm looking forward to news or release details for her upcoming anthology series Extrapolations. And like I've said recently, it could be any day that we learn of plans for her next big project. Patiently waiting.





Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Recasting 1987 (supporting): "Empire of the Sun"

We continue this supporting recasting project with a selection that most Streepers, upon first reading, will probably think "huh?" It's been fun to go outside of the box a bit with these supporting roles. There's a wider spectrum from which to choose; borderline lead (see Witness) to borderline cameo (Empire of the Sun and--spoiler--my likely upcoming choice for 2011). I first watched Empire of the Sun a couple of years ago when making preliminary selections for which films I might include in this follow-up recasting project. So often I find myself choosing to insert Meryl into roles that not only seem exciting from the character standpoint, but from the backdrop or region of the world in which the movie takes place. Steven's Spielberg's 1987 drama caught my eye for its setting in the less-often portrayed Pacific Theatre of World War II. 

The film is a coming-of-age story that follows the young Jamie Graham (Christian Bale), a British kid living with his rich parents in Shanghai when Japan begins to occupy parts of China in the early 1940s. Jamie gets separated from his parents, and after being taken prisoner, survives by operating a successful trading network in an internment camp. It is here where he develops close relationships with many of the prisoners. He idolizes the American POW camp, especially Basie, an expatriate hustler (John Malkovic), and is sort of reluctantly taken into the "home" of Mr. and Mrs Victor. It's Mrs. Victor whom I've chosen as the role to be recast in this entry. 

Portrayed by Miranda Richardson, the part of shell-shocked Mrs. Victor is one that I've come to learn was likely trimmed down significantly in the editing process. It's a shame too, because while it was never going to be a huge role, there seems to be large enough thread of her character throughout the interment camp scenes (the bulk of the film), that one gets a sense that she was intended to be showcased more in the original script. A British socialite, Mrs. Victor is a sharp contrast to the energy and opportunistic drive that motivates Jamie. She's annoyed by Jamie's naivete and pluck, and half the time looks like she's ready and willing to simply pass on.

We don't fully know whether she's just sad, scared, pissed, or a combination of all three. But the mother-son dynamic is strong enough that she welcomes Jamie back to their bunk after he learns Basie escapes the camp. In some ways, with her quiet and suppressed demeanor in the background (there are tidbits where you can totally get the sense that she's a snooty rich Brit), she's like a ghost figure in the film, her presence weaving through Jamie's experiences and framing them a bit for us in regard to his growing up. 

After the camp is liberated, Jamie makes his way with Mrs. Victor and the rest of the prisoners to a sports stadium filled with confiscated expensive furniture. It's here where Jamie probably completes his "coming of age." Mrs. Victor convinces him to stay put. And as Jamie suggests they "play dead" to not be noticed, he finds that Mrs. Victor isn't pretending in the morning. It's a pretty cool (if sad) scene actually, where the bright light from the Hiroshima bomb is interpreted by Jamie as Mrs. Victor's soul leaving her body. 

Again, it's a shame if it's true that Mrs. Victor was to have a large part in the film. It would've made us care a little more about her death, I think, which only helps the impact of the movie. I realize that this role might seem like there'd be too little for Meryl to do. But I can imagine her in the mid to late 80s making herself available if her agent had given her the script--since it would be working with Steven Spielberg--which up to that point she hadn't. She would've been fascinating to watch in an understated role like this. I would've preferred if there'd been something in The Last Emperor, a superior film released in the same year that also takes place mostly in China, but without it being so much through the scope of a white person. I also wish I would've seen Empire closer to the time that it came out. It would've been extremely easy for me to imagine myself in Jamie's place, having been only a few years younger than he was depicted on the screen. What a whirlwind and frightening journey for someone so young. 

Empire of the Sun wasn't quite the box-office hit like so many of Spielberg's movies had been earlier in that decade. But it received a ton of tech recognition at the Academy Awards and generally did well with critics. The film is beautifully shot. Very much an epic landscape and story. I also happen to think Bale's performance is stunning for someone so young. In general, the film is finely acted, with Miranda Richard's (downsized undersized) performance no exception. 





Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Recasting 1986 (supporting): "The Clan of the Cave Bear"

I warned readers at the start of this supporting recasting project that some of my choices were going to be a bit obscure. My pick for 1986 is one that I suspect few, if any, would've ever guessed. But I seemed to have had this movie in mind rather early on in my selection process. And while it may leave many of you scratching your heads, I'll make an argument for while it would've been a fascinating take for Meryl. 

The Clan of the Cave Bear is the first novel in author Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children series, which depicts interactions between early modern humans and our close relatives, Neanderthals. While I never read the books, I can remember distinctly as a child being drawn to the story of Ayla, a Cro-Magnon girl who is adopted by a clan of Neanderthals somewhere around 30,000 years ago. The draw was less about Ayla herself as a character, but the world. The world that was so long ago that it seemed and still seems like a fantasy. Films around the same time like Legend, The NeverEnding Story and Willow conjured a similar feeling--perhaps naturally, as they're all fantasy films. But I always knew that Neanderthals weren't puppets or fairies or flying pink dragons. They were real. Evidence of their existence remains today. We could hold them in our hands. And it was the first time that I can remember watching an entire film that keenly attempted to showcase what it was like for people in times earlier than my brain is capable of comprehending or contextualizing. 

Daryl Hannah stars as Ayla in the film version, directed by Michael Chapman (All the Right Moves). As a young girl, Ayla is separated from her mother during an earthquake. She is found by Iza (Meryl's recasted character, originally portrayed by Pamela Reed), the sort of medicine woman of a Neanderthal clan. Despite protests from her brother Creb and others, Iza takes Ayla into their clan. It's sort of a big deal for them, as Ayla is clearly one of the "others," meaning a modern human. This spells trouble at times, as Ayla's seemingly superior intellect tends to antagonize some members of the clan. Worrying that Ayla will struggle to find a mate, Iza trains Ayla in her healing ways.    


By today's standards, the costumes and makeup almost look a bit silly. But for almost forty years ago, it's not bad, in fact having earned an Oscar nom for makeup. It has to be said that this film did very poorly with critics and the box office. It's always perplexed me a bit, even as I watch the film again as an adult. There's a quote on Wikipedia taken from The Encyclopedia of Fantasy that reads: 

It is hard to see why TCOTCB has drawn such critical contempt, unless for its tacit feminism: although the narration is overexpository and the equation of mental versatility with leggy blonde Cro-Magnons, as opposed to shabby Neanderthals, is a cliché, the movie is beautifully shot, well scripted and finely acted.

I tend to agree with this sentiment. One thing I find interesting about the film's story is that the interactions among the clan, and even among the clan and "others" isn't all that different than how modern life is in regard to class and group identity. Recent studies suggest that Neanderthals were likely closer in intelligence to modern humans than is historically perceived or depicted. That long-held assumption is of course perpetuated for the most part in this film, with Ayla being better at math as a child, finding the clan a cave, and figuring out a way to survive after giving birth all alone in harsh conditions. So while the comparisons between the two groups may not actually be accurate, the relationships Ayla develops are no different than any adoptive mother and daughter or sister would be nowadays. 

One has to admit, playing a Neanderthal would be unlike any character Meryl has come close to playing. Iza is a complex woman in her own right. And even for a character existing 30,00 years ago, having her own "profession," she's a person of importance with some independence in her community, which carries its own sort of feminist sentiment which I feel Meryl would've appreciated. There's of course the language (made up of course) that is a combination of signs and verbal communication, which I always enjoy watching Meryl tackle. 

It's difficult not to draw comparisons to this film with one released five years earlier, Quest for Fire. Both attempt to tackle the tricky task of depicting a prehistoric culture of our early ancestors. While Quest was far-better reviewed and did better financially, it's not without its criticisms. One being that historically it's absurd that there would be multiple species of early human of varying degrees of evolutionary advancement all living within close proximity of each other at the exact same time. But the premise works greatly in making us ponder the world at a time like that. While I concede that Quest is the better film, this inability to avoid wanting to examine our origins was something I experienced in watching both films. I would've loved to see The Clan of the Cave Bear directed with a vision just as clear and with execution just as consistent as the former. Still, I maintain that it's worth a watch. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Eleven years of Word on the Streep!

This is a day late, but I didn't want to forget to commemorate the yearly anniversary of this blog! It's hard to believe we're a year into the second decade of weekly postings about Meryl. Sometimes I surprise even myself with how much I come up with to actually write about her. Her work continues to be a wonderful well of fascination and enjoyment. Despite this being a bit of a "quiet" spell for her (let's not get our panties in a bind...we all know she takes breaks), I've found it rewarding to have the opportunity to speculate on what could've been with my latest iteration of a recasting project. We have The Extrapolations to look forward to in a few months, and you know that big project is somewhere around the corner just waiting to be announced. 

Thanks to any and all readers and commenters. It's been a joy interacting with you on this forum. I hope you're enjoying the content and look forward to your continued participation.



 

Monday, August 8, 2022

Recasting 1985 (supporting): "Clue"

If someone were to ask me my top five all-time favorite movies, I'd be hard pressed to leave out 1985's dark comedy, Clue. I recorded it from a fuzzy HBO connection sometime in the late 80s, and it was a film that for whatever reason I found myself watching over and over again. My family owned the Parker Brothers board game off of which the film is based, so I was familiar with the characters before seeing it. Looking back, I'm confident I was drawn to the campy, often bitchy, dialogue that seemed to move a mile a minute. For these reasons, I'm choosing to insert Meryl into the film in the role originated by Lesley Ann Warren, Miss Scarlet. 

I feel the need to mention that it's easy for me to choose films in these recasting series that are somehow special to me personally. And I do it fairly often. But it's not an absolute rule when selecting roles. Spoiler alert, ensemble films that I adore like Steel Magnolias, Sense and Sensibility and Gosford Park are movies that I'd love to imagine Sreep participating in (and individually considered as well). But they just don't have roles that really stood out as either compelling or realistic for Meryl for when they would've been made. So, they will remain untouched by my thieving brain. Clue, on the other hand, is a picture along this same line of familiarity and high personal regard where I also find a role for which I think it's fitting to insert Meryl. 

As mentioned, the story is based on the board game that became popular in the 80s, with most of the original characters thrown together in a murder mystery that takes place over the course of one night. It's set in 1954 New England, where the characters (all given pseudonyms for the evenings to protect their identities) are brought together for a dinner party under the guise that the person blackmailing them will be revealed. "Miss Scarlet" is a sassy D.C. madam who's paying blackmail to avoid her modern-day brothel from being exposed. I wasn't able to find any full scenes with just Miss Scarlet, but there's a great mix of several clips of Warren that shows off the character well throughout the movie. 


Theaters showed one of three different endings to the movie. I've only seen it from TV, where they showed all three "possible" endings. The first of them shows Scarlet as the murderer of all the unexpected guests (informants), effectively eliminating the people who could bring evidence against her as the true blackmailer. The film is so silly at times, but I so often found it a total riot when the screenplay would showcase the characters as trying to be so demure and serious, only to turn out to be rather goofy...all while people are being killed right and left in their presence. This clip, for example, is one of my favorite moments in the history of cinema. It's so ridiculous and funny that these folks would break into song to pacify a murderer who's about to get away scott-free. And with three-part harmony and a descant from the great Madeline Kahn to boot!


As unlikely as it may seem that Meryl would've ever done this movie, part of the fun of the supporting version of this recasting project is imagining scenarios where she might have sneaked in smaller projects that wouldn't have taken up a ton of her time. Filming only took one month in Los Angeles, for example. More interesting to consider, perhaps, is that Carrie Fisher was originally cast to portray Miss Scarlet,. She dropped out shortly before shooting began to enter rehab. I can find no evidence to suggest that she and Meryl were close friends prior to production of 1990's Postcards from the Edge (based on the semi-autobiographical novel Fisher drafted after her stint in rehab). But I've seen several photos of Fisher and Postcards director Mike Nichols chumming around together well prior to 1980. Nichols of course also directed Streep in 1983's Silkwood. It's not wild to imagine Fisher having some at least oblique connection to Streep. Perhaps even Nichols being able to suggest her as a replacement when Fisher had to drop out. That's a bit far fetched, I suppose, but stranger things have of course happened, and Streep's name would've been a nice boon to the marketing department for the film. 

Clue was by no means a critical darling, and it made disappointing returns at the box office. But it's a film that has maintained a strong cult following to this day. While director Jonathan Lynn took a bit of a career beating after the film's release, he bounced back with 1992's My Cousin Vinny, and names Clue as the film for which he continues to receive the most fan mail. It's aged success has left a lot of people wondering "why?" I found this quote from Michael McKean, who plays closeted State Department employee, Mr. Green. I think it sums up pretty well why a lot of folks, who, like me, discovered this oddball flick in their prepubescent years, were so quickly and thoroughly hooked:

"I have a theory. It's a movie that is about adult stuff, but you don't need a lot of hands-on experience to know what they're talking about. It's about murder and sex and blackmail, but you don't really get your hands dirty because it's so silly. It's almost like the characters in it were based on characters in a game. Oh, wait a minute!"


Monday, August 1, 2022

Scott Z. Burns talks "Extrapolations"

Thanks again to Jamie Michael Rogers, who regularly alerts me to updates on Meryl's upcoming project for Apple TV+, Extrapolations, we have a bit of new info from writer/director Scott Z. Burns. 

A quicker link to the interview with The Hollywood Reported can be found here. Burns describes how Meryl was the first person he approached for the anthology series. Her passion for the topic and project, he explains, was instrumental in getting other cast members to join. Burns goes on to say that some characters have "ongoing storylines," while others are only in one episode. Unfortunately, he doesn't go into any detail as to which characters or actors fall into which categories. Meryl continues to be one of the few cast members who doesn't have a character name listed on IMDb. I had posted a Twitter clip some time ago in which Sienna Miller describes in an interview that Meryl will be playing her mother, as well as one additional part. Whether or not that gives us any inkling into Meryl having more than one episode in the ten-episode series remains to be seen. I certainly hope we get more of her than a single episode, but my hopes aren't super high. Regardless, the series sounds really interesting and timely, and is scheduled to premiere on the streaming service sometime this fall. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Recasting 1984 (supporting): "Witness"

As I'd mentioned I was going to do at the end of my last post in this series, I've selected a role in a film this week that many might consider a lead performance. I had a slight moment of regret when I sort of forgot about this movie after I'd selected A Passage to India for my lead recasting series a couple years ago. But as it turns out, the role of Rachel Lapp in Witness, that of a widowed Amish woman living in Pennsylvania with her young son, may be a more natural choice for a supporting recast than I'd thought. 

I watched it again this past week for what I think was the third time. My mom really liked it and so we rented it decades ago up at our cabin for an evening movie. I remember enjoying it (I was and am a fan of Harrison Ford from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises), and was drawn to the almost foreign setting of life on an Amish farm. I grew up working on a dairy farm, but this was something entirely different. With no electricity, plain black clothes, horse-drawn buggies. No TV! It might as well have taken place in 1850. And it was wild to consider (and still is) that people chose to live like that. The older I get, the more I can understand the appeal, however. 

The brief synopsis is that Rachel's son, Samuel, witnesses the murder of an undercover cop. Harrison Ford portrays John Book, the detective who takes the case. Book ends up getting shot by one of the suspects and is forced to recover on Rachel's farm where nobody will be able to locate him. He acclimates to the community and a romance between the two develops. The bad guys eventually track him down before a final standoff involving gunshots, hostage-taking, and asphyxiation inside a big silo filled with corn. The good guys win, of course. 

After watching it again, I don't think it's that wild to consider the role of Rachel a supporting one. Kelly McGillis (of Top Gun fame) had only been in one other film prior to Witness (1983's Reuben, Reuben), and was by no means a big name at the time. Director Peter Weir evidently had a difficult time casting the role, unable to find someone "womanly" enough. But when McGillis auditioned, he knew quickly that she was right for the role. It's natural that a relative unknown could more easily be categorized as being in a supporting role, as McGillis was when she was nominated at the Golden Globes. I have to remind myself that supporting versus lead isn't always or solely about screen time either. That said, I think it would've been a stretch to squeeze Meryl in there...unless she had been in Falling in Love or A Passage to India that same year and they were trying to push in her in lead for either of them. 

As far as the role itself, one might tend to consider it a predictable damsel in distress sort of character. But I'd argue that Rachel, despite existing in a society that has stringent gender roles and major limits on opportunity for any thought of going your own way, shows a fair amount of moxie and self-possession. She recognizes the power of seduction, is fiercely protective of her son, and also stands up to her father-in-law, Eli (Jan Rubeš), when he chastises her for demonstrating behaviors that could rouse even a suspicion of some kind of involvement with Book.

   

It's a tricky mindset to negotiate. She's a grieving, possibly lonely widow. She and her son are in potential danger, and she's met someone new. This new person happens to be someone she originally finds dangerous and would normally want nothing to do with. Her interest in him would make for a powerful internal struggle. And choosing to act on her desires could have catastrophic consequences for her place in her community, as well as her son's and her extended family. McGillis does a fine job here, but you know I'd love to see what extra je ne sais quoi Meryl would bring out in this character. 

Originally released in February 1985, Witness was filmed in the spring of 1984 and seems like it could've easily have been pulled together for a theatrical release later that same year if they'd wanted. It became a big box-office success and did well with critics. It currently holds a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and 76 score on Metacritic. More impressively, perhaps, was its eight Academy Award-nomination haul, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (in Ford's only nomination to date), and wins for Original Screenplay and Editing. As mentioned, McGillis scored a Globe nod in supporting, and while she missed out with Oscar, BAFTA nominated her in lead. I half wonder if category confusion might have affected her shot for the big one. Regardless, it's a great performance and even better film. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Recasting 1983 (supporting): "The Big Chill"

Not long after I started my original recasting project in mid 2020, I started preparing my list for which supporting roles I thought would be fun to tackle. Part of the fun of doing all this is revisiting movies I enjoy, as well as experiencing some that I've never seen. I knew Glenn Close had been nominated for her supporting role in The Big Chill, so I thought I'd check it out to see if it'd be something worth considering for this series. To my surprise, it's been a film that I've since revisited a handful of times, as I've thoroughly enjoyed its smart screenplay and excellent performances from the cast. The soundtrack is also one of the best of all time. 

Something else that surprised me was that I ended up preferring the role of Meg, originated by Mary Kay Place, to Close's. And it's ultimately the one I chose for this week's selection. A bit of plot background: Seven 30-something college friends reunite for a weekend in South Carolina following the suicide death of another member of their close-knit group. Among the friends is Meg Jones, a successful, single lawyer who feels her biological clock ticking and wants badly to have a baby. She sort of sizes up her four male friends, deciding which of them she should ask to sire her offspring, no strings attached. 


I found a quote from director Lawrence Kasdan in which he describes what he thinks The Big Chill is about: 

The Big Chill deals with members of my generation who have discovered that not everything they wanted is possible, that not every ideal they believed in has stayed in the forefront of their intentions. 'The Big Chill' is about a cooling process that takes place for every generation when they move from the outward-directed, more idealistic concerns of their youth to a kind of self-absorption, a self-interest which places their personal desires above those of the society or even an ideal.

I found this to be an interesting and likely accurate summary. I suspect part of what drew me to the film was that I'm not that far off from being a similar age as these characters, and have had many of the same experiences they describe and depict in the film. It's wild to think about my close group of friends from undergrad and grad school, and the extent to which our lives have either diverged or stayed on a similar path, regardless of geography. The excellent ensemble of actors cast in this movie were able to convey a real sense of history and camaraderie. The tone is funny and at the same time kind of bleak, with the vacillating between ovations of love for each other to castigation and accusation. Aside from the somewhat lonely place the character of Meg seems to be coming from, there's so much to do for all of these characters, as they're interacting with so many sub-groups of friends in their group over the scope of the weekend. Were Meryl to have had the chance to participate, she would've shared individual scenes with Glenn Close, Kevin Kline (coming off their pairing in Sophie's Choice), William Hurt (fifteen years prior to One True Thing), and Jeff Goldblum, in addition to the above scene with Tom Berenger. 

The Big Chill was generally well-received in 1983. While Close was the lone acting nomination (losing out to Linda Hung in The Year of Living), the film was nominated for Best Picture, and Kasden shared an Original Screenplay nod with Barbara Benedek. I maintain that the role of Meg is the most interesting of the three in the friend group. And I'm not alone in that sentiment. Both Close and co-star JoBeth Williams are reported to have commented that they would have preferred to portray Meg in the film. But the director already had them both in mind for the roles which they ultimately ended up plahing. It would've been fun to see the layers Meryl would have brought to the character. And what she would've brought out of her co-stars! 

For my 1984 selection, I'm bumping up a film that was released in early 1985, with a role that is arguably a lead one. I'll share my rationalizations for why it's appropriate for this current project in my next post. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Recasting 1982 (supporting): "Annie"

Following a string of six dramas to start this supporting recasting project, I thought it was high time for a change of pace. John Huston's 1982 musical comedy Annie seemed the perfect project for a more light-hearted turn. If I'm being truthful, I had this movie in mind from the very beginning of my recasting selections. The first time I remember seeing it, my mom had taken my sister and me to her co-worker's home. They had kids similar in age and were probably the only family we knew in town who had a VCR in the early 80s. After Mom came home one day with the cassette tape of the film's soundtrack, it was over. As someone who's liked to sing from a young age, I did my best to emulate the kids' voices in all their high belts and harmonies. My sister and I basically burned a hole in our parents' silver stereo playing that tape over and over, much to my dad's chagrin. Forty years later, I'm still a huge fan. 

I concede up front that the film isn't a masterpiece. But it's got a pedigree of directing, acting, singing and dancing credentials that anyone would've been hard pressed to surpass at the time. Huston is well-known for The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, and Prizzi's Honor, and the ensemble cast he assembled included Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters, and Ann Reinking (who starred in the role for which I'm recasting Meryl). Everyone probably knows the story of Little Orphan Annie, who's invited to stay with billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Finney) for a week in Depression-era New York. I rewatched the film recently and I couldn't help but be sort of appalled at the notion of a ten year-old getting to stay in a mansion and then just dumped back at the orphanage without anything being done more long term for or her or her fellow orphans by this seemingly benevolent billionaire. I was too caught up in the music and that fact that the orphans were somehow all acrobats as a kid to really think of it that way. And it's not like it's hard to predict that Annie's going to get adopted at the end anyway. 

Reinking portrays Grace Farrell, Warbucks's private secretary. She's a sort of a prim and proper character with a big heart. More interestingly in the role is that she has some song and dance sequences that I don't think we've ever really seen Meryl do. Meryl has sung plenty of times, but has not really performed the kind of choreographed dance numbers for a stage-to-screen musical like this one. Reinking was Bob Fossey's girlfriend at one point and was a star on the stage (see All That Jazz). Her dance skills no doubt are what made her a natural for the part. 


I watched a Bobbie Wygant interview with Reinking around the time of the film's release in which Reinking talks about the role being a bit beefed up from the stage version. Grace is a woman in her thirties in the Thirties, unmarried and working in a rather important job. That wasn't exactly common at the time. And when she inevitably grows attached to Annie, the "family unit" arc develops, reinforced of course by the romance that buds between her and Warbucks. There's an inherent conflict in that dynamic that adds a bit of heft and potential backstory to work with in the character, along with the fun part of singing and dancing. I bet Meryl would've had a ball in scenes with Carol Burnett (who deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance as the drunken Miss Hannigan). 


The film wasn't a huge blockboster and received mostly mixed reviews from critics. In fact, it was nominated for a handful of Razzie Awards, and poor little Aileen Quinn (Annie) won for Worst Supporting Actress (while simultaneously getting nominated for a New Star of the Year at the Golden Globes). Burnett also scored a Globe nod for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. The picture did end up landing a pair of Academy Award nominations, for Cinemotography and Original Song Score or Its Adaptation and Adaptation Score (whatever the hell that is). Despite its somewhat disappointing performance, I maintain that it's a very entertaining movie (particularly for kids around the orphans' age), and an excellently acted one. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Recasting 1981 (supporting): "On Golden Pond"

Jane Fonda purchased the film rights to Ernest Thompson's 1979 play, On Golden Pond, with the specific intention of having her father star in it. She and her father, screen veteran Henry Fonda, apparently had a similarly strained relationship that paralleled the lives of the father and daughter depicted in the story. The screen version was filmed in 1980, and was released in late 1981 to critical acclaim and major box office success. Katharine Hepburn famously co-starred in her last Oscar-nominated role (a performance for which she also won). 

It's a bit difficult to imagine a scenario that might've included Streep in the role of the younger Fonda. But as I've commented numerous other times in my pair of recasting projects to date, stranger things have happened. It's been documented that Jimmy Stewart was interested in acquiring the rights prior to Fonda having secured them. I've also read that he was offered the lead role of Norman, but I find that more difficult to believe, considering Jane Fonda had her father in mind for the part from the beginning. Had Stewart snuck in before the younger Fonda had, Hepburn would also seem like a natural choice as his co-star. She and Stewart had starred in the 1940 film, The Philadelphia Story, which just so happened to be filmed forty years to the month prior to On Golden Pond. And then it could've been anyone's guess who would've ended up portraying Chelsea, Norman and Ehthel's somewhat estranged, only child. Why not Meryl?

One of the obvious first questions that comes to mind is that of age. The character of Norman is about to turn 80 when he and his wife, Ethel (Hepburn) return to their summer home on a lake called Golden Pond somewhere in New England. While Henry Fonda would've technically only been 75 during filming, that's still a pretty big stretch to expect to see his character's only child to be around 30 (Streep would've turned 31 a month prior to filming). Ethel is supposed to be in her late 60s, which is a bit more plausible, if atypical for most American families in the mid 20th century. But if the story were changed ever so slightly to have Norman turning 75, we'd have a pair of parents whose estranged daughter was born when they were in their early forties. As mentioned, that wasn't common back then, but even Meryl's own parents were in their mid to late 30s when they had Meryl (the oldest of three), with her father being in his early forties when he fathered his last child. If we imagined that same scenario for Norman and Ethel, it actually might add some interesting backstory as to why Chelsea and her father didn't always see eye to eye. Had the couple perhaps either not wanted children when Chelsea came along, or had struggled for a long time to conceive only to have a girl, there are some inherent complications and potential resentments at play that could've fueled the actors' performances. The same could be true if Dabney Coleman remained in the cast as Chelsea's boyfriend (then husband), Billy Ray, who is seventeen years older than Meryl. Not to get too Freudian, but some might suggest that seeking or being interested in the romantic affections of partners much older is not an uncommon feature in folks who had a detached or strained relationship with their father. We don't really get a concrete sense of that for Chelsea and Norman in the film. Were they to play it in a way similar to what I suggest here...who knows? It would not only allow for fewer raised eyebrows in response to the age gaps, but possibly even enhance our understanding of the characters' motivations, fears and regrets.

   

I'm not sure how thrilled Meryl would've been to be in a bathing suit for some scenes, but I imagine she'd have been great at the back flip. Part of what has made this film so appealing to me over the years is how closely its setting resembles much of my upbringing. My parents have owned a cabin in northern Minnesota since I was a child, and so many of my summers were filled spending time on boats, in the woods, on porches, in lakes, and around campfires. The cinematography is extremely nostalgic, as it so well captures the essence of lake culture in the great American forests of the North and Northeast. I actually didn't see this movie until I was an adult, but young Billy Ray Jr. (Doug McKeon) does such a splendid job that the first time I watched it I was almost immediately drawn into his experience. 

As mentioned above, On Golden Pond was a huge hit in 1981. In addition to it being the second-highest-grossing film of that year, it was nominated for ten Academy Awards (including Best Picture). Hepburn and the senior Fonda both won in lead as well, with Thompson scoring a win for Best Adapted Screenplay. It would've been amazing to see Meryl opposite Katharine Hepburn (who probably hadn't made her negative comments about Meryl being her least favorite actress by that point yet). I wonder if that would've changed if they'd worked together, as it seemed to have changed Hepburn's less than stellar impression of Jane Fonda prior to when they filmed. I'm sure I've mentioned this somewhere else in this blog at some point, but Meryl was the frontrunner that year for her lead performance in The French Lieutenant's Woman. I would love to have seen the final tallies in her category. Had she squeaked it out over Hepburn, and things played out the same way over the next thirty years of awards, Hepburn would've finished with three lead wins and Streep would be sitting at three lead and one supporting wins. Jane Fonda was nominated in supporting that year as well (Maureen Stapleton won for Reds), and after already having two lead wins for Klute and Coming Home, Hepburn famously phoned Fonda after the ceremony (which Hepburn did not attend of course) and quipped, "You'll never catch me now!"



Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Recasting 1980 (supporting): "Ragtime"

In a 2015 interview for Ricki and the Flash, Meryl Streep was asked a question about whether there was ever a project she really wanted to do but ultimately turned down because it was the right choice for her family. It's the first question in the interview and comes within the first minute:

Meryl provides the example of when she had been cast in a movie called Ragtime, which she dropped out of after finding out she was pregnant with her first child, Henry. I had already planned to include this film in the 'supporting' version of my recasting project by the time I saw this clip. And I honestly don't even remember how I happened to come across the interview, but after doing so, I was even more confident in my choice. We don't learn for which role Meryl had been cast, but I suspect it was likely for the part I originally intended to select, that of "Mother." Mary Streenburgen ultimately portrayed the character in the film. 

It's not too difficult to imagine why Meryl would've been interested in a film like Ragtime. Adapted from the novel by E.L. Doctorow and directed by Miloš Forman, the film takes place in the 1910s New York. It primarily follows an African American ragtime piano player, Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Howard Rollins), and his struggle for justice after racist city firemen vandalize his vehicle without punishment. The plot intertwines a few storylines, one of which is when Mother's maid finds an abandoned black baby in the garden and Mother convinces her curmudgeony husband to let her take in both the baby and its mother, Sarah (Debbi Allen). Coalhouse just happens to be the baby's father. 

   

Another of the storylines involves Mother's brother (Brad Dourif, who starred in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next) falling for a starlet, Evelyn Nesbit, (Elizabeth McGovern), and eventually becoming sort of radicalized in helping Coalhouse and his group of friends/fugitives in a violent standoff against the police. Throughout all of this, Mother cares for the baby, including when Sarah dies from an assault at a rally. Policemen confront Father and Mother about turning over the baby, essentially as a way to draw Coalhouse out from hiding, but Mother holds her ground. After Coalhouse is shot dead, we see Mother riding away from her husband with Tateh (Mandy Patinkin), a director with whom she'd had a bit of a spark after meeting him while he filmed a scene with Evelyn (his new star) on the beach in Atlantic City. Mother leaves with Coalhouse and Sarah's young baby in tow. 

OK that's sort of convoluted, and ultimately I think the character of Mother isn't exactly one for the ages. But she serves as sort of a lens through which some of the complex scenarios and questions that result from the film's storyline can be viewed--especially when one considers how they would've been interpreted by folks around the turn of the twentieth century. Mother is one of the few who not only empathizes with Sarah and Coalhouse, but she also, while herself a person of little agency as a woman at that time (even as a white woman), does what she can to do right by people. Were a woman of that upbringing to leave her home and husband with a Jewish divorcee and a black baby, it would not have been a socially supported thing to do. Father's attempts to convince Coalhouse to surrender weren't enough. I expect Meryl would've been attracted to that kind of moxie in a character. 

Something else I like about this movie is its wonderful ensemble cast. In addition to the above mentioned names, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeff Daniels and Fran Drescher all had minor roles. Perhaps most reknowned, however, was the presence of James Cagney in his last film role, portraying Commisioner Rhinelander Waldo. I'm also a fan of director Forman, not only for his Academy Award-winning directing in Cuckoo's Nest, but also for 1984's Amadeus, which is a favorite of mine. Ragtime was nominated for eight Academy Awards and received favorable reviews. Steenburgen missed out on a supporting nod (McGovern snagged one), but she was recognized with a nomination at the Golden Globes. 

The film was shot in the second half of 1980 with a release in November the following year. Knowing that Meryl had stated she dropped out of this film due to becoming pregnant with her son (who was born in November '79), it makes me wonder if it was originally scheduled to shoot in the latter half of 1979. No doubt that would've left Meryl unable to participate. Had she really wanted to star in it and was not otherwise committed to another project, it would not have been pregnancy that prevented her participating in 1980. In fact, The French Lieutenant's Woman (released late 1981), was likely wrapped by the fall of '81, as shooting started in May of that year. The likelihood is that production on Ragtime may have been delayed from its planned start date, but by the time filming was about to begin, Streep had been replaced or was no longer interested. Maybe we'll never know. For it to have worked for Meryl to participate with a 1980 release (and not be in the late stages of pregnancy--if that was her preference), filming would've likely needed to start in the spring of 1979. Meryl wouldn't have been showing likely until summer. But interestingly, and coincidentally, Steenburgen was pregnant during shooting as well, giving birth to her daughter Lilly only a month after filming was reportedly complete.