Saturday, March 19, 2022

Wish list entry #9: "State of Wonder"

A few weeks ago I finished Ann Patchett's 2011 novel, State of Wonder. It is the first of several I've recently selected which showcase a character whom I expect would be an interesting role for Meryl to portray onscreen. Warning that there are spoilers ahead. 

The story follows a woman named Marina (who is not the Meryl character), a physician in Minnesota who is tasked with tracking down her one-time mentor in the Amazon rainforest. One of her colleagues had previously been sent not long prior, but he ended up mysteriously dying. Her mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson (the Meryl character), has spent the better part of the last few decades in Brazil, working on a drug that allows women to become pregnant well into their seventies. First spoiler: the tribe that Dr. Swenson studies to develop her drug also has immunity to malaria. Marina works for a big pharmaceutical company, so this is a big deal. Second spoiler: Dr. Swenson, a woman in her early seventies, is pregnant. 

Just the plot points aren't necessarily enough to make for an interesting project. My guess is that Dr. Swenson would technically be a supporting character. But knowing how central she is to the story and action, particularly in the latter half of the book, someone with Meryl's star power might be able to snag a co-lead type of categorization. The character is a brilliant, decisive woman (nothing new to Meryl's roles there). But there's a certain subtlety and mystery around her, partly due to the fact that she never had children and now that she's pregnant so late in life (third spoiler: Dr. Swenson realizes the fetus has died inside her around the third trimester and she wants Marina to deliver it) there are a lot of interesting moral and ethical questions the reader can't help but consider. Dr. Swenson is also a rather pragmatic person and physician, something one might expect for anyone surviving in the jungle. This practicality she exudes contributes to the tricky questions that arise, and it's the type of nuanced and "difficult" character and story that I think usually catches Meryl's eye. It also doesn't brush over the physical ravages of age, despite how physically capable Dr. Swenson is and is required to be. And the character gets to speak a touch of Portuguese and the eponymous language of the (fictional) indigenous Lakashi people. 

What's interesting in researching this book was that it was optioned for a limited series back in 2018. A year later, director William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth starring Florence Pugh and the upcoming Eileen starring Ann Hathaway) became attached. The screenplay started work around the time as well apparently, only for Covid to hit nine months later. I have no idea if Covid was indeed a factor in this not yet having any casting or further production news, but it's certainly a reasonable possibility for why it has not come to fruition, and why it's not crazy to think it still may. 

It would be a great lead role for a forty-something woman of Indian descent (Marina has both Indian and Norwegian heritage). And it takes place in the Amazon, a setting that is different than any Meryl has shot in. This last part might actually be a barrier to Streep taking the part were she offered it, knowing that she's been open about not liking being hot and sweaty. Although, she had a bit of that shooting in the swamp for Adaptation, so if the role is right, she may just try something new. Considering the dearth of casting news we've had for her over the last year, I would not be shocked if Streep's attachment would be the final boost the producers would need for that final green light necessary to get filming underway. 


  1. I miss the days when Meryl used to star in mainstream commercial films some of which were awards fare. The Devil Wears Prada, Mamma Mia!, It's Complicated, Hope Springs, Into the Woods. Meryl was an actual movie star. Plus she was Golden Globe nominated for all of those films. I was so happy as a Meryl fan. But since 2018, it's like she doesn't care about her career anymore. It makes me so sad.

    1. I think it's a little more complicated than that. Maybe yes she cares less about her career now, and with the timeline you suggest that is the around the time her new life chapter of grandmotherhood began. Combine that with sorry to say it but a move into her elderly (gasp!) years where roles may not be as plentiful. Also, I don't think a global pandemic made it all that appealing to say yes to everything unless you found it special.

    2. I think Darcy is correct here. It's a bit disingenuous to suggest that Streep "doesn't care about her career anymore." She's been three Best Picture nominees in the last five years. She was nominated for Globe for Big Little Lies (which a phenomenon of a series on television). She was robbed for any recognition for either The Prom or Let Them All Talk.

      Yes, the roles are going to be harder to come by. But part of why I'm posting some of theses suggestions is to show that the stories are out there! Maybe she's gearing up to produce more like has often been suggested. Regardless, I think she's got at least one more major string of great projects before we all start putting her career to bed.