Monday, June 13, 2022

Recasting 1978 (supporting): "Coming Home"

It has been well-documented that after the filming of 1977's Julia, Jane Fonda had sought to cast co-star Meryl Streep in her upcoming Vietnam War drama, Coming Home. Fonda was evidently so impressed with Streep that she had her in mind for the role of Vi Munson, originally portrayed by Penelope Milford. Meryl proved unavailable, and Milford went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for her performance. I had originally assumed that Meryl might have been too busy shooting The Deer Hunter (also 1978). As it turns out, however, Coming Home was filmed in early 1977 (The Deer Hunter mostly the latter half), but Meryl was committed to starring in a Tennessee Williams play. 

At first I was hesitant about choosing another Vietnam War-related movie to recast with Meryl, especially the exact year as The Deer Hunter. But it has been so long since I'd seen Coming Home that I'd forgotten how polar opposite the role of Vi is from Linda. It therefore seemed like a great choice to imagine Meryl diverging from the hapless, innocent, "waiting" Linda in The Deer Hunter to free-spirited, pot-smoking bohemian Vi in Coming Home. 

Vi meets Fonda's character, Sally, after both women's partners (Sally's husband, Vi's boyfriend) are deployed to Vietnam in 1968. To keep herself busy, Sally volunteers at the veterans hospital where Vi works, and she ends up developing a relationship with Luke (John Voigt), who is paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair following a combat injury. Vi also has a brother (Robert Carradine) who lives at the hospital, struggling emotionally after a brief stint in Vietnam as well. There isn't much out there in terms of clips of Milford in the role, but I found this one that has a few snippets from several scenes (start at 1:28):

I think it would've been fun to see Meryl play the scene where's she with Fonda after learning that her brother committed suicide in the hospital. Vi is the opposite of naive, and she's the type of character who seems like she'd have a pragmatic view of it all in the end. That doesn't mean she's not angry or sad, but she's not shattered or helpless. She's a good lens through which the audience can understand another facet of the horrors of war; her brother spent little time overseas, yet came back so messed up that he ended up taking his life. Vi behaves like a ticked off older sister who's little brother pulled some kind of stupid stunt. Her pain no doubt goes much deeper, but her tough exterior won't let that show just yet.  

Directed by Hal Ashby, Coming Home was a tremendously successful film, both commercially and critically. It was also one of the few to realistically depict the life and struggles of someone wheelchair-bound--particularly in love scenes. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards in total, winning three: Original Screenplay, and both Fonda and Voigt for their lead performances. Had Meryl not done that play, it would've been interesting to see for which film she would've been nominated, as it's an Academy rule that an actor cannot be recognized in the same category twice. 


  1. This is the one that came to my mind as well, an interestingly different role to The Deer Hunter..