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. 

1 comment:

  1. Good choice! Although I've never seen it as I dislike the genre my brother is a big fan and there's no denying it's a classic.

    I will choose the Catherine O'Hara role in "Home Alone". She is just wonderful as the mother desperate to get home in this Christmas standard, I just love that scene where she and Kevin are reunited