Monday, May 29, 2023

Recasting 2022 (supporting): "Everything Everywhere All at Once"

Somewhat unexpectedly, my lead recasting project from two years ago ended up being a tidy 365 days between first and last selections. That timeline worked out pretty well for me as far as getting all my posts completed the way I wanted to. And so it is that I wrap up this supporting recasting project the way I began it last year, on Memorial Day. It's pure coincidence that in both projects the final selection is for a role that won an Academy Award for its original actor, and in a film that was critically acclaimed and went on to win both Best Picture and Director.  

Everything Everywhere All at Once is difficult to neatly classify as a film. It incorporates elements of sci-fi, comedy, drama, martial arts, absurdism. I have to admit that when it first became available to stream, I I tried watching it and stopped after about forty-five minutes (which I almost NEVER do with movies). I knew little about it at the time, other than a few comments about the cast and that it was getting great reviews. I was just not in the mood to watch something quite as volatile and wild as this movie turned out to be. I ended up revisiting it of course, much due to the fact that it seemed like the role of IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdre (expertly portrayed by Jamie Lee Curtis) might be an interesting role to imagine Meryl taking on. 

It's very difficult to summarize the plot of this movie if you haven't seen it (or even if you have!). But suffice it to say, as far as the plot goes the film follows a Chinese immigrant family in the United States (Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Kwan as married parents of Stephanie Hsu's character) who are struggling with their marriage and laundromat business, which is being audited by the IRS. Next blurb from Wikipedia: 

At a tense meeting with IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdre, Waymond's body is taken over by Alpha-Waymond, a version of Waymond from the "Alphaverse." Alpha-Waymond explains to Evelyn that many parallel universes exist because every life choice creates a new alternative universe. The Alphaverse, led by the late Alpha-Evelyn, developed "verse-jumping" technology, which enables people to access the skills, memories, and bodies of their parallel selves by performing bizarre actions that are statistically unlikely.

So, a bunch of universe jumping takes place and Evelyn (Yeoh) and her family are given a reprieve from the IRS, and Evelyn and her daughter sort of make peace, and we're left with some semblance of understanding that life is not meaningless. I think?

It's a pretty wacky ride, but it's fun that Deirdre is not only a very distinctly written character in her "main" universe, but that she (like the other main characters) gets to portray multiple different people in the various universes through which Evelyn jumps. We learn a little about Deirdre and her likely decision to offer the Wangs a reprieve on their audit.

   

The hot dog fingers are about the limit ha. And I like how in that "hot dog hand" universe, when Deirdre plays the piano with her feet her wrist brace is now on her ankle. 

I suspect this might have been a bit too "out there" of a role for it to have been on Meryl's radar. But it actually does remind me a bit of her turn in 2002's Adaptation where there's a "meta" feature to it, even if that one was on a much more sedated level. But what fun it would've been to see her participate in Everything Everywhere, especially considering its critical and box office success. It's not a film that I'll likely revisit over and over, but I'm pleased that a diverse cast and creative team were so successful with both audiences and critics. 

The movie earned $140 million at the worldwide box office on a shoestring budget of only $14.3 million. It holds a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 81 score on Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim." And whoa did it ever clean up at the Academy Awards this spring. It won seven Oscars out if its ten nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director(s) for Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and of course, Best Supporting Actress for Curtis. Curtis also won the SAG award and was nominated by BAFTA and the Globes, among several Critics circles nominations. I think it makes for an excellent final addition to this year-long list of roles. 

As I made a point of doing in my lead recasting project, I'd like to take my hat off to all of the remarkable actors who originated the roles in the below list. Their work is exciting and inspiring to me. And although I'm ending this series for now, I plan to eventually add my selections (for both lead and supporting recasting categories) for future years. Thanks to all those who've read these posts and participated in the dialogue around the roles and projects. You've made it a lot of fun for me!


1976: Marathon Man (Elsa Opel) 
1977: Jesus of Nazareth (Mary the mother of Jesus) 
1978: Coming Home (Vi Munson) 
1979: All that Jazz (Angelique, The Angel of Death) 
1980: Ragtime (Mother) 
1981: On Golden Pond (Chelsea Thayer Wayne) 
1982: Annie (Grace Farrell) 
1983: The Big Chill (Meg Jones) 
1984: Witness (Rachel Lapp)
1985: Clue (Miss Scarlet)
1986: The Clan of the Cave Bear (Iza) 
1987: Empire of the Sun (Mrs. Victor)
1988: Working Girl (Katharine Parker) 
1989: Parenthood (Helen Buckman)
1990: Goodfellas (Karen Hill) 
1991: The Prince of Tides (Lila Wingo Newbury) 
1992: Damage (Ingrid Thompson-Fleming)
1993: In the Name of the Father (Gareth Peirce)
1994: Bullets Over Broadway (Helen Sinclair) 
1995: Rob Roy (Mary MacGregor) 
1996: The Birdcage (Louise Keeley)
1997: The Ice Storm (Janey Carver)
1998: Pleasantville (Betty Parker) 
1999: Tea with Mussolini (Elsa Morganthal Strauss-Armistan)  
2000: Almost Famous (Elaine Miller) 
2001: The Royal Tenenbaums (Etheline Tenenbaum) 
2002: White Oleander (Ingrid Magnussen)
2003: The Station Agent (Olivia Harris)
2004: Sideways (Maya)
2005: Alexander (Queen Olympias)
2006: Children of Men (Miriam)
2007: Hairspray (Velma Von Tussle)
2008: Rachel Getting Married (Abby Buchman)
2009: Animal Kingdom (Janine "Smurf" Cody) 
2010: The Fighter (Alice Ecklund-Ward)
2011: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Harriet Vanger)
2012: Mildred Pierce (Lucy Gessler) 
2013: Top of the Lake (GJ)
2014: Snowpiercer (Minister Mason) 
2015: Trumbo (Hedda Hopper) 
2016: The Wizard of Lies (Ruth Madoff)
2017: I, Tonya (LaVona Golden) 
2018: Sharp Objects (Adora Crellin)
2019: The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (Marilyn Miglin) 
2020: Succession (Nan Pierce)
2021: Mare of Eastown (Helen Fahey)
2022: Everything Everywhere All at Once (Deirdre Beaubeirdre)

Roles by originating actress:

Michelle Pfeiffer (3) 
Dianne Wiest (3) 
Patricia Clarkson (2) 
Jessica Lange (2) 
Melissa Leo (2) 
Miranda Richardson (2) 
Sigourney Weaver (2) 
Joan Allen (1) 
Lorraine Bracco (1) 
Cher (1) 
Jamie Lee Curtis (1) 
Pam Ferris (1) 
Jane Fonda (1) 
Holly Hunter (1) 
Olivia Hussey (1) 
Anjelica Huston (1) 
Allison Janney (1) 
Angelina Jolie (1) 
Cherry Jones (1) 
Marthe Keller (1) 
Judith Light (1) 
Virginia Madsen (1) 
Frances McDormand (1) 
Kelly McGillis (1) 
Penelope Milford (1) 
Helen Mirren (1) 
Mary Kay Place (1) 
Pamela Reed (1) 
Ann Reinking (1) 
Joely Richardson (1) 
Jean Smart (1) 
Mary Steenburgen (1) 
Tilda Swinton (1) 
Emma Thompson (1) 
Lesley Ann Warren (1) 
Debra Winger (1) 
Jackie Weaver (1)

Monday, May 22, 2023

Poll #16: "Which role do you most wish you could have seen Meryl do?"

Next week, I'm going to wrap up my supporting recasting project with my final role selection. With all the thinking I've been doing in the last few years between this project and my (mostly) lead recasting series, I thought it would be interesting to just put out a poll to see people's ideas on which roles they would've most liked to see Meryl do. I did a smaller version of this question six years ago, but that one only consisted of movies for which Meryl was originally attached and didn't end up doing. I have chosen twenty titles that span projects Meryl was attached to but someone else did, projects that she was never in consideration for (that I know of), and those for which she was announced to star, but that never got made at all. I think all the them have been included in my lead recasting project or my "Should Coulda Wouldas" tab. For ease, I have only included lead roles. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Please take the opportunity to check the last option of "other" and include your own write-in, and feel free to then expand on your selection in the comments. I'm excited to see everyone's choices!

Monday, May 15, 2023

Recasting 2021 (supporting): "Mare of Easttown"

For the penultimate selection in this series, I thought it appropriate to note that of the last ten selections, seven of them have been from television. Of those, five of the shows originally premiered on HBO. I've touched on this phenomenon several times in the past, but I think the trend is an example of where the good parts are moving (or have moved), not only for women over 50, but for women in general. If it's not about a superhero or is a sequel primarily known for its special effects, it's quite possible the project's greatest audience will be found on the small screen. 

I've also commented on my affinity for limited series. I enjoy that they have a clear arc from start to finish, and yet they're longer than a feature film and so we get to go deeper into the story and, more importantly, into the characters' lives and minds. Mare of Easttown is one such example of why I'm so drawn to and glad for the reemergence of the miniseries/limited series as a venue for the best performers. I watched it when it came two years ago and found it to be one of my all-time favorites. The great Kate Winlset stars as Mare, a detective in a suburb of Philadelphia trying to solve the murder of a teenage girl while navigating the challenges of her own complex and painful personal life. The role I'm recasting is that of Mare's mother, Helen Fahey, originally portrayed by the splendid Jean Smart. 

The very nature of a "supporting" role is that it's not necessarily all about them. The story is all about Mare, and everyone else is an extension of her world. With that in mind, it may seem like Helen's character doesn't have a lot to do, other than to be in the background with a few wisecracks and perturbed looks in response to her daughter's somewhat questionable decisions. After having recently watched the series in full for the second time, I realized I had sort of forgotten that Helen, as a character, has plenty for an actress to showcase. She's a woman who's lost both her husband and adult grandson to suicide, she's moved in with her daughter to help care for her great-grandson (of whom Mare is attempting to maintain custody), and she has to sort of delicately walk the line of trying to fight for keeping the little boy while not alienating his troubled mother so as to lose him forever. In one of the lighter moments of the series, she's outed after a neighbor's funeral as having an affair with the man's husband. 


Above all though, I think the trickiest and most interesting work for the character is summarized in the last episode of the series (the one Smart submitted to the Television Academy and for which she ultimately received an Emmy nomination), where she tearfully reveals to her daughter the struggle she had in managing their mother-daughter relationship in the wake of her own grief. I apologize I was unable to find a suitable clip of the scene. But it's a touching (if a bit comically awkward) scene, and it provides the audience a sense of perhaps some closure for both Mare and Helen. 

Similar to what I mentioned in last week's post with Succession, it would just be a lot of fun to be able to insert Meryl into this world. It's a vivid tapestry of characters in a close-knit clan that is as quick to forgive each other as they are to knock-down drag-out fights. Like one big, dysfunctional family. The region also has a very distinct accent, one which I've read that Kate Winslet insisted on the entire cast nailing for authenticity purposes. I think some of the actors were more successful than others with that. And I think we could've expected Meryl to have enjoyed and excelled at that piece. 

Mare of Easttown was lauded by critics. It holds a whopping 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 81 on Metacritic. As mentioned, Smart earned an Emmy nod, while Julianne Nicholson won in her category, as did Evan Peters in supporting and Winslet of course in lead. The show was also nominated for Outstanding Limited series, Directing (Craig Zobel) and Screenplay (Brad Inglesby), losing the first two to my favorite show of that season, The Queen's Gambit. 



Monday, May 8, 2023

Recasting 2020 (supporting): "Succession"

I never thought I'd picture recasting Meryl in a true series. With the trend in the best parts for women shifting to television over the last fifteen years or so, however, my recent selections have been mostly from that medium. I generally find myself getting attached to fewer and fewer non-limited series. My view is that so few of them really stop at the right time, and that they tend to eventually jump the shark or completely cycle through the original cast to the point that it's barely the same show anymore. This is probably more true with network television in the U.S., whereas a good bunch of cable series do a better job of keeping the show's entire arc to a reasonable limit. HBO's Emmy-award winning powerhouse, Succession is one such show. 

There aren't many programs in recent history where I honestly cannot wait to watch the next episode. Game of Thrones comes to mind, The Americans, Schitt's Creek (excluding limited series where I often get to binge them).  Succession is definitely one of those. It will go down for me as one of the best television shows I've ever watched. And it seems to just keep getting better. The current and fourth season will be its last, with the series finale wrapping up on May 28. For those unfamiliar, the often-satirical show follows the Roy family, owners of a media conglomerate loosely based on the Murdoch family, which in real life owns News Corps and the Fox Corporation (under which we get the batshit news channel Fox News). Brian Cox portrays Logan Roy, the patriarch and CEO in the show. He is ostensibly trying to identify which of his four children would be an appropriate successor to the "throne." It's difficult not to draw some parallels to Lion in Winter (one of my favorite movies), with the kids all jockeying for the big job.

I'm recasting Meryl in a role that was (mostly) seen in season 2 (and bumping it a year from when it aired in September 2019 to 2020). Cherry Jones plays Nan Pierce, the head of a rival, left-leaning media company named PGM. Logan wants to acquire it, and by episode five of the season, the Roys meet up with the Pierces at the Pierce family estate, called Tern Haven. This is one of the best and most enjoyable episodes of TV I've ever watched. There's so much intrigue and enticing friction between the two families; the Pierces are depicted as a more landed gentry yet progressive-type of wealthy family, compared to the more nouveau riche Roy clan. The way they talk, the things that interest them, their politics, are for the most part vastly different between the two families. There are great moments of both discomfort and humor. The big scene in the episode is the dinner scene. Much like the one in August: Osage County, it's a long scene with a lot of moving parts. Nan is trying to get a feel for Logan's interests, including whom he plans to name as a new CEO upon his departure. 


In one of the last scenes of the episode, the two titans go head to head to try to finally nail down a deal. 


It would be a lot of fun to see Meryl negotiate that scene. She's got to be tough, but she's also sort of in a corner. Nan shows up in the following episode for a bit as well, where she puts the kibosh on a deal that they ended up actually hammering out at the end of the first episode. It was fun to see her get Logan so riled up. And she does make an appearance for a brief scene in the current season as well (spoiler!). 

Jones won an Emmy for Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her performance in Tern Haven. I realize that in the grand scheme of a show with nearly forty episodes, the role of Nan Pierce is pretty small, but when compared to movies, it's quite a bit of screen time. And I just like the idea of putting Meryl into that world, with all the rest of those incredible actors/characters, on a show that I absolutely adore. 

Succession has of course been nominated for and won several top awards, including the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series for both its second and third seasons. All the main cast members have been nominated for their work, and the writing and directing are regularly recognized as well. I sort of expect that could be something close to an Emmy sweep coming this fall since this is the final season. If so, it would be well-deserved. Sad to see it go!  

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Does anyone care whether Meryl participates in a third "Mamma Mia!" movie?

Three years ago, I posted that Mamma Mia! creator Judy Craymer had been quoted in an interview that a third film may be on the horizon. Well, as they're on the look for new stars for the upcoming 25th anniversary of the stage musical, Craymer is again saying that things are in the early stages for a new movie. In fact, she's quoted as saying about Meryl, "There is a story there, and I do think Meryl should come back -- and if the script is right, she would, I think, because she really loved playing Donna."

Fine. But what kind of script is there going to be for a dead character who was originally played by an actor that will be close to twenty years older thatn when she was in the original movie? Maybe they'd figure something that would be believable, but I pretty much don't care if this happens. I do like when things are tidy, and when they say that they originally planned for this to be a trilogy, maybe it makes sense. But I don't think Meryl needs to do this to stay relevant, even if it ended up making a lot of money. Maybe it's true that she'd just like to do it because it was fun and she enjoys Donna as a character. 

At this point, I'd rather she spend her time on something new and more interesting. We'll see if it ever comes to fruition, with or without Meryl. 

Monday, May 1, 2023

Recasting 2019 (supporting): "The Assassination of Gianni Versace"

For anyone reading the title of this week's post and thinking that 1) the year is wrong, and 2) this series was released before last week's choice of Sharp Objects, hold your horses. Yes, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story was indeed released on HBO a few months prior to Sharp Objects. But as I have done with other selections in this and my lead recasting projects, if there are two projects from the same year that I want to choose, I often place first the one that was filmed first. In this case, it was Sharp Objects, hence Versace coming afterward. 

Based on real events, this miniseries follows the life of Andrew Cunanan (played by Darren Criss), who ended a three-month killing spree with the murder of famous Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, his fifth victim. Cunanan's third victim was real estate tycoon, Lee Miglin. Miglin was a closeted gay man who had met the much younger Cunanan, who was an escort at the time, at a party. It is Miglin's wife, Marilyn, whom I have chosen to recast in this production. Brilliantly portrayed by Judith Light, Marilyn, a long-time host on the Home Shopping Network, came back from a business trip to their home in Chicago in 1997 to find her husband murdered. It's the aftermath of this discovery and the sort of mental hoops the character goes through when dealing with police and the press that make for a fascinating opportunity for any actor. 


This would be such a great character to unpack. If you've seen the entire episode (Marilyn basically has one episode of the nine in which she's prominently featured, as well as a small amount at the end), you get a feeling that Marilyn may have suspicions about her husband's sexuality, without it being directly acknowledged. She insists after Lee's death that it be portrayed as a random killing in the press. This likely became next to impossible to maintain the more the country and the world learned about Cunanan and the nature of his crimes. Light does an amazing job in the role. It's one of those tricky scenarios where the actor has to portray someone who's basically pretending within the role as well. Marilyn puts up quite the front on her shopping network, and seems to sort of hide behind the cover of her work, perhaps to not have to deal with the reality of not only her loss, but the fact that she'd been married to someone for over forty years without fully knowing them. Of course there's some creative license in all this, as we don't know for sure what Marilyn knew about her husband. Regardless, it's a tale as old as time, where the seemingly deceived wife (or husband) has to struggle to not beat themselves up for not realizing the truth. It's easy to see how denial is a natural rabbit hole to go down.  

I've watched this series twice, and it still kind of boggles my mind that the first killings took place so close to where I grew up. I have vague memories of the news of Cunanan, but the first four murders were sort of lost in the background (I was 17 at the time) of his extremely high-profile final victim. Watching the backstory of his first two victims, Jeffrey Trail and Davis Madson, it's wild and sad the extent to which gay men had to be fearful of being outed in their lives (understandably, particularly in the military) less than thirty years ago. 

The series was very well-received by critics, currently holding an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 74 on Metacritic. Six actors were nominated for Primetime Emmy awards for their performances, including Light (along with Edgar Ramírez as Versace, Penélope Cruz as his sister Donatella, Ricky Martin as Versace's partner Antonio D'Amico, and Finn Wittrock as Trail). Criss deservedly won for his lead performance, while Ryan Murphy (at his best in this series in my opinion) earned a win for directing the show's premiere episode.  

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Season 3 of "Only Murders in the Building" to premiere August 8?

Variety is reporting that Steve Martin casually revealed on stage last night that season 3 of Hulu's Only Murders in the Building will premiere on August 8. Martin is on tour with co-star Martin Short on their You Won't Believe What They Look Like Today! show. 

It seems unlikely that they'd randomly reveal a date without it being correct. It's believable, as we've been expecting that the show would likely come back sometime this summer. We'll wait until official word comes from the network, but I think it's safe to say that August is when we'll get to see Meryl in action again. I've updated the countdown on the right of the home page. 



Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Streep honored with Princess of Asturias award

Multiple outlets are reporting that Meryl has been awarded Spain's prestigious Princess of Asturias award. According to Wikipedia, the award is given to "individuals, entities or organizations from around the world who make notable achievements in the sciences, humanities, and public affairs." Notable winners in recent years are Bob Dylan, Pedro Almodóvar, Michael Haneke, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola. Not a lot of ladies. The award comes with a prize of 50,000 euros and is set to be presented at a ceremony in Spain in October. No word yet on whether or not Meryl will attend. 

This recognition probably has nothing to do with anything else, but along with the recent Streep Performing Arts Center dedication by SAG and the anticipation of Meryl's work in season 3 of Only Murders in the Building, it almost feels like there's a bit of a PR push the likes of which we see when people are making little comebacks. Not that Meryl really needs a comeback, but she's been sort of "quiet" in the last couple of years (I know, I know she's taken similar breaks), and I've speculated that 2021 in particular felt like she sort of just dropped out of all rumored or announced work. It seems like we might be ripe for a big announcement on an exciting project in the coming months. Here's hopin'!

Congratulations on your award, Meryl. Well-deserved as usual. 




Monday, April 24, 2023

Recasting 2018 (supporting): "Sharp Objects"

Not long after Meryl starred in the second season of Big Little Lies, I came across an interesting article that bemoaned the paucity of good screen acting roles for women of a certain generation. Specifically, the article honed in on the fact that female characters for which much of the television awards recognition came that year (at least in the supporting categories), happened to be of women one might tend to describe as "crazy." There was Meryl's nutty mom trying to commit her daughter-in-law in BLL, Jessica Lange in The Politician (shocking that Lange took a role as a disturbed person eye roll), Patricia Arquette in The Act. This last one showcases a mother with a psychological disorder called Munchausen syndrome by proxy, in which someone makes someone else, or keeps them, ill for attention. There's good points to consider in the question of why there weren't or aren't better roles than crazy moms for these ladies. It's a debate certainly worth having. That said, I don't think such characters should automatically be removed from the screen. There's definitely some truth and real-life examples that substantiate this sort of depiction, even if in 2019, there happened to be a large number of them all at once, making it seem perhaps a bit like veteran actresses are getting relegated to portraying an archetype of unstable loons. 

In director Jean-Marc Vallée's (season 1 of Big Little Lies, Dallas Buyers Club) HBO limited series, Sharp Objects, we see another one of these characters who demonstrates the same illness as that of Arquette's. Based on Gillian Flynn's novel of the same name, Sharp Objects follows a journalist, Camille (Amy Adams), who returns to her southern hometown and to the peculiar mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson), from whom she is estranged. Camille investigates the death of two teenage girls in her hometown in Missouri, which antagonizes her mother, who's a wealthy owner of a hog factory and is consumed by maintaining appearances of being a refined Southern belle. But as it turns out (spoiler alert), Adora is responsible for the death of Camille's sister years ago and is currently doing the same thing to Camille's younger half-sister, Amma (portrayed by the stellar Eliza Scanlen). Additional spoiler(!): Amma is the killer of the teenage girls in town.


I've seen interviews with Patricia Clarkson where she talked about how she approached her role. I imagine it's not a unique response among actors when she described Adora as someone for whom she had to have understanding, or even love. That may be the key to convincingly and humanely portraying any character. We all believe in what we want and what motivates us, no matter how vile or incomprehensible that may be to anyone else. It's why I think it's OK that we see these types of characters for veteran actors. Not that being mentally ill is the only facet of a character that could possibly make a woman over 50 interesting, but I don't think it's something that needs to be shuttered from depiction. And I think it's done tastefully and with compassion in this series. I also just love the setting. For whatever reason, I've always been drawn the gentility and refinement of certain southern customs (definitely not the slave-owning one), and Sharp Objects has many of those on display, including the gorgeous house Adora lives in and the fact that it's always sunny and hot and yet people don't seem to be sweating that badly. 

The production was a major critical success, currently holding a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 78 score on Metacritic. Along with Emmy and SAG nominations, Clarkson won the Golden Globe for Supporting Actress. I tend to think winning this category at the Globes is a little more impressive, because the nominees are drawn from the categories of series, limited series and television movie. Clarkson definitely deserved the win. Amy Adams made the rounds with noms at all the major awards shows as well, although she didn't manage to win any of them (unless I start counting the Critics' Choice Awards). The show itself also managed a Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for Best Limited Series, while Vallée was nominated by the Directors Guild of America for his directing.  

 

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Filming wraps on season 3 of "Only Murders in the Building"

Selena Gomez posted a sort of "wrap" pic on her Instagram today with our favorite girl. 


I think it's worth repeating that it's possible that Meryl's participation in this will bolster her recognition among a younger generation of fans. Gomez has a whopping 412 million followers, and when she posts things like this, just with her and Meryl, I expect some youngsters will take notice. 

Still no word on the official release date, but I've read speculations that it will be sometime this summer, which seems reasonably likely.  

Monday, April 17, 2023

Recasting 2017 (supporting): "I, Tonya"

As I hinted at the end of my last post in this series, one of the roles for which I've sort of coveted for Meryl has been Allison Janney's Academy Award-winning performance in I, Tonya. It's well-known that screenwriter Steven Rogers wrote the part for Janney, as the two were longtime friends. It's therefore very unlikely that Meryl would've gotten near this role, even if she had been interested. But that's the fun of this project--getting to imagine that Meryl would've somehow had a connection that would've placed her in the running. 

The role itself is that of LaVona Golden, mother of infamous figure skater Tonya Harding. This is where I'm so drawn to this movie and character. In early 1992, at the age of 12, I watched the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on TV. I don't recall exactly why I was so into it, but I recorded it on our VCR and watched it over and over. I could remember the "Battle of the Carmens" from Calgary in 1988 between German Katarina Witt and American Debi Thomas, both of whom skated their Olympic long programs to the music of George Bizet's opera of the same name. It was an intense competition with a lot of media coverage pitting the two skaters against each other. The results were ultimately disappointing for me, as Thomas had a bad skate and finished with only a bronze. We didn't have a VCR in '88, so the memories of it (which included a very young Ekaterina Gordeeva--a pairs skater with Sergei Grinkov--as the media darling of the games), along with vague memories of Japan's Midori Ito being the first woman to land a triple axel in '89, remained just that, memories. 

I think it was my ability to rewatch the U.S. Championships and soaking in the spectacle of Tonya Harding, who by then had become the first American to land a triple axel (in Minneapolis!) the year prior, that sort of sucked me in to the events leading up to that year's Olympics in Albertville, France. Harding was the reigning U.S. champion, but she had finished second to fellow American Kristi Yamaguchi at the World Championships the year before. Incidentally, Nancy Kerrigan finished third at the worlds in '91, making it a clean sweep for America on the podium. The skating itself was fascinating to me, but the drama of waiting to see who would take home the top prize at the Olympics was probably the most entertaining bit of it all. 

For whatever reason, I was sort of pulling for Tonya in '92. Maybe it was because I liked that she was the best jumper. She also felt more like the small-town rural girl with whom I more closely identified. Not that I didn't love Yamaguchi too, just that there was something about Harding that felt like she needed more rooting for. In the end, Haring had a disappointing Olympics, and ended up returning two years later for the Games in Lillehammer, Norway. 

It's basically Harding's life leading up to these second games and the wild ride afterward that make up the events of this movie. Very few people are unfamiliar with the story of how Harding's dumb husband tried to mastermind clubbing Nancy Kerrigan to try to prevent her competing at the Olympics, which would have paved the way for Harding to more easily take gold. It didn't work the way they wanted, and Tonya was eventually banned for life from competing due to her somewhat oblique involvement in the scheme. Not as many people knew how rough of an upbringing Harding had, which is vividly depicted in the scenes involving her mother. 


It's easy to draw parallels between this character and Violet Weston, Meryl's character in her August: Osage County. They're both rather unfeeling mothers, who, under the guise of giving their daughters a leg up, sacrifice their own upward mobility, only to later resent their children when they don't succeed to the level their mother's expect. It's an age-old example of trying to live vicariously through one's children. There's a hint of love in it I suppose, but ultimately it feels more like a harmful obsession that's based in vanity and jealousy. That said, it's sort of fascinating. And while I'm not a big fan of inserting Meryl into roles that seem too similar to one's she's already done, the fact that this particular role is set in a world that's so embedded in the memories from my childhood, I found it impossible to pass up.  

Allison Janney's performance was one of the most dominant in award season history. She swept the Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA and Academy Award, in addition to multiple critics' groups awards. Margot Robbie earned nominations in Lead Actress in all the major televised ceremonies as well, but lost out to Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri most of the time (as was Meryl for her performance in The Post, incidentally her most recent Academy Award nomination). I, Tonya was generally well-received by critics, holding a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 77 score on Metacritic. With a meager $11 million budget the film ended up being a financial success, earning nearly $54 million worldwide in box office receipts. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

Recasting 2016 (supporting): "The Wizard of Lies"

In the wake of the 2008 recession, financier Bernie Madoff was exposed as the perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison and died there in 2021. Director Barry Levinson's (Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man) HBO movie, The Wizard of Lies, stars Robert De Niro and depicts Madoff's fall and the toll it took on his victims and family. 

I'm recasting the role of Ruth Madoff, Bernie's wife (originally portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer). First off, this is one of the few scenarios where Meryl is actually more age-appropriate for the role than the original actor was. Most of the movie takes place in late 2008, when Ruth Madoff would've been 67. Wizard of Lies was filmed in the fall of 2015, when Meryl was 66. Pfeiffer at the time was only 57, and looked young for her age. But no biggy. 

Prior to Bernie's arrest, Ruth Madoff seems like kind of a boring person. She'd been the wife of a super wealthy New York stock broker for decades (they were married when Ruth was 18), and from what I understand, she didn't do much other than live an extravagant life. She says herself in the movie that she hasn't ever really done anything on her own, and when faced with the prospect of her husband, who'd been her entire life, being whisked away to prison, I can only imagine how terrifying and discombobulating that would be. Not that I feel particularly sorry for Ruth Madoff, but from a character standpoint, it would've been very interesting to watch Meryl convey that kind of shock of reality that had to have hit her. I believe that for the most part, Madoff was in the dark about her husband's crimes, and the media's portrayal of her, on top of the dizzying scandal, had to have been humiliating. 



I really enjoy Michelle Pfeiffer, but the accent is a bit cartoonish. Other than that, I think she did a superb job in the role. This is the type of timely story and difficult topic to which I feel Meryl would be drawn to. I say "difficult" because it's easy and maybe even natural to want to vilify Ruth Madoff. It's tough to sympathize with the super rich who are responsible for wiping out the life savings of a lot of people (even if Ruth may not have been directly involved). I think it would be a challenging prospect to humanize her, which I feel Meryl would certainly manage to do. 

The Wizard of Lies was fairly well-received by critics. It has a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 67 on Metacritic. De Niro and Pfeiffer were both nominated for Emmys and Golden Globes (De Niro also earned a SAG nom), neither coming away with any wins. The movie was actually released in the spring of 2017, but with the film's 2015 filming schedule, it would've been no problem having it ready by fourth quarter 2016, thus my bumping it up a year. My selection next week for 2017 is one of the roles for which I was inspired to undertake this supporting recasting project in the first place. 



Monday, April 3, 2023

Recasting 2015 (supporting): "Trumbo"

Two years before Judy Davis's Emmy-nominated portrayal of Hedda Hopper in the 2017 limited series, Feud, Helen Mirren managed to score a nomination at almost every major precursor before being snubbed at the Oscars for portraying the same character in Jay Roach's film Trumbo. The film is a biopic centered on Dalton Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston), a Hollywood screenwriter who becomes blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the early 1950s for being a communist. 

I rewatched the film last week and two things stuck out to me: 1) the fact that for whatever reason watching movies either from or set in the 40s and 50s feels really nostalgic to me (I just enjoy the styling and how everything seems really clean--despite everyone smoking, which I don't mind--and in its place), and 2) I'd forgotten how awful of a person Hedda Hopper probably was in real life. 

Hopper was a gossip columnist who had an astounding number of readers at the height of her popularity in the 1940s. This afforded her some level of power in regard to influencing how folks in the entertainment industry were perceived. I imagine this no doubt affected the behavior of Hollywood stars, even up to the decisions made by studio heads like Louis B. Mayer. 


Those "pissants" are members of the Communist party, who became targets of a witch hunt in the 1950s largely led by senator Joseph McCarthy. Hopper was a huge supporter of the HUAC. It's hard not to see the parallels and similarities to today's political world, where fear-mongering is the name of the game for certain groups, individuals, and even networks. Of course, there's not really much basis in all the effort to excoriate people who are simply demonstrating their constitutional rights of free speech. But there were a LOT of people freaking out in the aftermath of World War II, and anything or anyone in the United States that came close to resembling or sympathizing with the Soviet Union became a huge no-no. It's sort of ironic, considering the attempts to safeguard "American" values by shunning free speech ended up, as far as I can tell, more resembling fascism than patriotism. It was to the point that Trumbo was jailed for close to a year. And after he got out, he had to take lesser work under a pseudonym to make ends meet for him and his family. But the quality of his work continued to make him sought after, in a hush-hush way, by some major stars. 


My understanding is that Hopper had dreams of being a movie star, but as her acting career waned in the 1930s, she turned to writing. This makes me wonder how Meryl might have negotiated this into her character. It's hard not to picture there being some sort of lifelong resentment a person might hold if they were sort of "unwanted" by a group or industry by a certain point, especially when that person ends up acquiring a powerful and poisonous pen. Maybe it'd be part of humanizing Hopper a bit more, in understanding her motivations for her often unsupported and ultimately damaging tactics she implemented in entertaining her readers. That venom and that fear comes from somewhere. 

As referenced above, Mirren landed nominations at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and SAGs (shocking that she missed BAFTA), and then missed out on the Oscar nom. I suspect Rachel McAdams was the last to squeak in there for Spotlight, which, while probably a better film than Trumbo, McAdams's performance was not in my opinion better than Mirren's (and I don't even think Mirren's was all that amazing--the accent...yikes). Cranston was nominated everywhere but won nothing. Trumbo made no money but was generally well-received by critics, with a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes. I can see myself returning to it again in the future, as it contains the aforementioned cinematography I enjoy and is about movies!


Monday, March 27, 2023

Recasting 2014 (supporting): "Snowpiercer"

Keeping with my little streak in this project of directors being a big draw, I've chosen Bong Joon-ho's 2013 (bumped to 2014 for my purposes) post-apocalyptic climate film, Snowpiercer. Bong is perhaps better known for his 2019 film, Parasite, which won him the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture. Snowpiercer follows the last survivors on Earth after an attempt to halt the effects of global warming with the use of stratospheric aerosols goes disastrously wrong. The survivors are segregated aboard a self-sustaining train called the Snowpiercer, as it traverses the planet that is now basically all covered in ice. 

The character for which I've chosen to recast Meryl is Minister Mason, portrayed by Tilda Swinton. She is sort of the right-hand man of the designer of the train (played by Ed Harris). Mason works to maintain the oppressed "tail end" of the train, keeping them living and working in relative squalor, while folks near the inaccessible "front end" live in the lap of luxury. Chris Evans is the main character Curtis, who leads a revolt against Mason and her guards, when he's advised by a wise elder, Gilliam (John Hurt), that the guards' guns no longer carry ammunition. Putting up such a fight comes at great risk, as anyone who ever dares to step out of line is swiftly and severely punished. 


Swinton has been quoted with some very specific and interesting thoughts on her approach to the look and characterization of Minister Mason:

Mason is a pretty monstrous construct so we felt we were dealing with extremes, but the truth was that we didn't have to go that far. Look at Hitler with his dyed black hair and Gaddafi with handmade medals stuck on his jacket.
 
And according to an article originally from Hitfix, "Swinton prepared for the role by studying clowning politicians throughout history, and Mason is, in Swinton's words, 'a complete smash cut of all the monstrous, maniacal, political clowns.' Swinton added that the character is a mix of Margaret Thatcher, Colonel Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler, and Silvio Berlusconi."

This thinking reminds me so much of how we've heard Meryl talk about how the look of a person or character tells us so much about them, and very quickly. Of course the acting needs to follow, but I think she gets a bit of a bad rap for the "external" aspects of characterization, as if that's the only or largest aspect of her characters. It's not. But it's important, and Meryl recognizes that probably as well as--if not better--than anyone. I'm not sure we would've seen her do the Yorkshire accent like Swinton did, but perhaps her own iteration of what she felt was posh or authoritarian. And I think it's a different enough character than her take on President Orlean in Adam McKay's recent allegorical climate change film, Don't Look Up, to warrant this choice. 

In the above scene, we get a great understanding of what I think is the crux of the struggle in the movie. The oppression of many by the rich and powerful few. That's certainly not a new concept, nor is one of climate change. But putting the two together in a stylized and futuristic setting makes for a very interesting premise for storytelling. I could totally see Meryl being interested in something like this. 

Snowpiercer was a box-office hit and was widely praised by critics, citing its fresh take on a human (near) extinction story and/or action thriller. While it wasn't nominated in any of the major televised award shows, many critics circles singled out the film and its screenplay and directing. Swinton was also often recognized, earning nominations for Supporting Actress from over a dozen of these organizations. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Recasting 2013 (supporting): "Top of the Lake"

This is the second selection in a row (of three after I post next week's selection) that the main driver in my interest in the project is the director. I realize that I chose Jane Campion's 1993 film The Piano for my lead recasting project, but her 2013 limited series, Top of the Lake seems a good fit as well, for a handful of reasons. 

I should note that Campion did not direct every episode of this seven-part series. Garth Davis (Lion, Mary Magdalene) directed an episode on his own, and a few were jointly directed between the two. The first season was a crime drama that takes place in New Zealand (there ended up being a second season that takes place around the same area but with a different cast and different story). Elizabeth Moss stars as Robin Griffin, a detective trying to find a missing and pregnant 12 year-old girl lost in the forest. The person she suspects is the girl's own father, Matt Mitcham (portrayed by Peter Mullan), who we end up learning is actually Robin's father as well, making the young girl, Tui, her half-sister. Drama!

The role I'd recast Meryl in was portrayed by the same person, Holly Hunter, whom I recast in the Piano. In Top of the Lake, Hunter plays a Swiss sort of spiritual guru named GJ, who arrives on Mitcham's land (which pisses him off) with a troupe of troubled women who hope to get a fresh start on their lives. I can't say this for sure, but I feel like one of the first things that drew me to the character of GJ was how much her styling reminded me of Meryl's character in The Giver (same year):

Both are kind of considered wise elders, but Hunter had the more interesting character in a MUCH better production. 


Hunter talks a bit more about the character in a separate clip of this interview. It's interesting how she describes GJ as "an enigma, someone considered a guru who has a following and doesn't want a following." I can totally envision Meryl being attracted to a character like that, having to work out and convey that inner dichotomy or contradiction. I've said it before and I'll say it again that Meryl likes things/concepts that are difficult. This character would certainly have offered that. It's quite natural to assume that she never got anywhere near playing it, considering Hunter and Campion's history with The Piano. But hey, that's why I do imagine her different roles as part of this project! I do wonder why Hunter, playing somebody from Switzerland, mostly sounds like herself. I bet Meryl would've adopted some level of a Swiss-German or Swiss-French accent for the part. 

Top of the Lake was a massive hit with critics, scoring a whopping 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and 87 on Metacritic. It was nominated for five Emmy Awards: Best Miniseries, Director(s), Screenplay, Lead Actress for Moss, and Supporting Actor for Mullan. All well-deserved.  

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Streep replaced in "Places, Please"?

There are rumblings on Awards Worthy today that suggest Places, Please is back on track and in pre-production. I looked on IMDb and while the film's status was indeed changed to "pre-production" on March 13, and Atlanta has been listed as a filming site, Meryl's name is no longer listed as attached. 

There is also this link to screenwriter Elisabeth Seldes Annacone's bio page on the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television. In the second paragraph there is a line that reads: "Seldes Annacone has also written a number of screenplays. Her most recent, Places, Please, is slated to begin filming in January 2023 with Glenn Close and Kathy Bates." That's some pretty specific info that seems unlikely to be incorrect (except for maybe the part that filming started in January). 

I'm surprised I'm as bummed about this news (if it's true) as I am. I'd pretty much given up on the possibility of this movie happening, as nothing has been mentioned about it since its announcement just over two years ago now. But Meryl hasn't had a lead role onscreen for what seems like forever at this point, and there's no definitive news about anything else coming along. The Tarantino film seems tenuous at best (still holding out hope), and Extrapolations was a bit part. Even Murders in the Building, while sure to be fun and entertaining, is highly likely going to max out as a guest/supporting role in a single season for her. 

Imagine if we were getting news that Meryl was actually filming Places, Please this spring and then The Movie Critic (or whatever it'll be called). The first could be complete for release this year, the other next year. And OMG if she got to star alongside Kathy Bates?! How wonderful that'd be! I'm assuming Close will portray Lillian Hall. Good for her, regardless. If the role is as strong as I was hoping, maybe it'll put Glenn in the running for her much overdue Oscar. Still, I wish wholeheartedly that it were still Meryl in the part. 

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Review of "Extrapolations" (2023)

Scott Z. Burns's anthology series Extrapolations premiered on Apple TV+ Friday night with its first three (of eight) episodes. The limited series depicts the potential effects of climate change over the next 15-25 years. I'll say up front that this post is not really going to be a full-on review of the production, as there are several more episodes to come in the weeks ahead, and it seems likely that Meryl's participation was encapsulated in episode two. 

For any of us wondering how large her part would be, the suspicions of it being minor seem to have come to fruition with the show's premiere. Not a huge deal, as the show's theme and interconnected plot are sort of meant to be the stars here. Meryl plays Eve Shearer, the mother of Sienna Miller's character, Rebecca Shearer. Rebecca is a scientist studying the last-known humpback whale. They've developed technology that has decoded the humpback's underwater communication, and Rebecca has assigned her late mother's voice as the one to translate the humpback's sounds. This is what everyone online is talking about when they say Meryl is "playing a whale." Meryl is not playing a whale. Her voice is a computerized representation of a whale's thoughts.


Eve has passed away from liver cancer by the time the bulk of Rebecca's story is played out. We get to see a couple of brief scenes from Meryl. One where she's recording herself reading The Little Prince for her grandson, the other when she's close to the end and trying to explain to her daughter her decision to be less than one hundred percent honest about the severity of her condition. Shout out to eva on Twitter for having the only clip I can find on the internet of the scene:

It's hard not to think about Kate Gulden from One True Thing talking to her daughter Ellen (Renee Zellwegger) as she faces her own mortality. Nothing particularly groundbreaking or super new from Meryl here. But it's beautifully acted and very touching nonetheless.  

I have to say I can sort of understand the lackluster response from critics thus far. While I'm glad the story is being told, and the acting and cast are both fantastic, the show is a bit of a slog. There's a disjointedness about it, even for a show that's intended to showcase a large number of character in the throes of their own individual experiences of how climate change has negatively affected them and their loved ones. It's by no means awful, but if it weren't for Mery's participation and the urgent light it attempts to shine on the climate crisis, I'm not sure I'd want to watch much more of it. The production value looks really expensive, and I like the diverse cast as well as the international scope of the story. Sad thing is, it doesn't seem like much of a story versus a sobering look into what we may be facing in our own lifetimes if drastic action isn't taken on a very large scale. 

Final verdict for me is that it's an important story and production, but a bit too tedious and convoluted for me to love it. It's obvious to me that Meryl joined this project more for the message than for the role, much like I suspect many in the cast also have. And more power to them if they believe in the project. As mentioned, I'm glad the production is out there, and I'll certainly be watching every episode.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Streep and Tarantino?

I wasn't planning on posting about this, but there's been so much chatter on the interwebs about director Quentin Tarantino's plans to announce his tenth and final film, supposedly titled The Movie Critic. Multiple sources have revealed that while details of the script are being kept secret, the film will be set in late 70s Los Angeles. Tarantino is apparently known to revere the late film critic Pauline Kael. We don't know whether or not the film will have anything to do with Kael, and if so, if it'll be an actual biopic or only be based on her. But we do know that a female lead will be cast. 

One wouldn't necessarily think of a Quentin Tarantino movie and immediately think of Meryl Streep. But this might not end up being a typical super-violent type of film we usually see from the director. I seem to remember Meryl mentioning that she's not a fan of the violence in Tarantino's films, so it would've been unlikely that she would've said yes to any of his previous movies, even if there had been a reasonable part for her to play and had been offered the role. But we do know from this 2012 article that Tarantino is a fan:

"I'd really love to work with Meryl Streep. I'm a huge, huge Meryl Streep fan, and I actually think we'd get along like a house on fire, even though I don't really know her."

So is it that out of the realm of possibility? While I think it's a long shot, there may be a chance. Tarantino has been quoted in recent years that his final film is likely going to be something much different and/or unexpected compared to his previous productions. How outside-of-the box and cool would it be to see someone like Streep leading a movie form the director of such pop culture hits as Pulp Fiction, the Kill Bill films (which Tarantino wanted to release as a single film) and the more recent Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? And it would be an amazing mini-comeback when we've seen so little of Meryl on the big screen in the last five years. It could mark the start of a new era to her career, which, if the film performed well, could open the door to greenlighting projects that would perhaps otherwise not get the go-ahead (see the years following 2006's The Devil Wears Prada). 

An added interesting element to this story is that Pauline Kael was known to not be a particularly big fan of Meryl's work. An oft-quoted snippet from 1982 reads:

"Something about her puzzles me: after I’ve seen her in a movie, I can’t visualize her from the neck down. . . . Her movie heroines don’t seem to be full characters, and there are no incidental joys to be had from watching her. It could be that in her zeal to be an honest actress she allows nothing to escape her conception of a performance.”

Streep of course had many performances after 1982, and not everything Kael wrote about her was extremely negative. But mostly. The one comment Meryl ever publicly made about the heaps of non-praise was from a 2008 interview:

“I’m incapable of not thinking about what Pauline wrote. And you know what I think? That Pauline was a poor Jewish girl who was at Berkeley with all these rich Pasadena WASPs with long blond hair, and the heartlessness of them got her.”

This has all got the makings of a fascinating character study in a movie with potential for visibility that could skyrocket Meryl back into the cinematic stratosphere. Kael would've turned 60 in 1979, but Meryl would have no problem portraying someone in their early 60s in the 1970s (especially one who smoked for many years). And if we care at all about looking the part, what more could a director possibly ask for? 


The Movie Critic is set to film this fall. 



 

Monday, March 13, 2023

Sneak peek of Streep in "Only Murders in the Building"

Hulu shared a brief clip of the upcoming third season of Only Murders in the Building:

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It's hard to tell the context of that scene, but knowing Paul Rudd's character died on stage in the last episode of season 2 (spoiler!), it looks like they might have all been rehearsing a scene and Meryl's character missed her line??  Regardless, she looks great. With this show and the debut of Apple TV+'s  Extrapolations later this week (which btw already has 5 reviews on Metacritic and is sitting at a mediocre 60), hopefully it marks a surge in Meryl participating in more projects than what we've seen in the last couple years. 

No word on exactly when later this year we'll see season 3 of Only Murders in the Building. 

Recasting 2012 (supporting): "Mildred Pierce"

I've hoped to see Meryl do a project with Todd Haynes for years. While I suppose it's possible that the opportunity may still come one day, I've looked back on some of Haynes's projects trying to identify one that I think could have realistically included Meryl. Neither of the lead roles in Far from Heaven or Carol would have worked, and as fun as I think it would've been to see her in Cate Blanchett's role in I'm Not There, she simply would've been too old. 

Which brings us to the 2011 HBO limited series, Mildred Pierce (which I'm obviously bumping back a year to 2012). This was sort of around the time that the tide started to really turn in regard to television being more widely accepted as a medium for the biggest screen stars of the day. The scripts were, and often remain, better. Especially for women. Based on the 1941 novel by James M. Cain, and perhaps more famously known for its film adaptation starring Joan Crawford in 1945, the story follows Mildred (Kate Winslet), a newly single mother during the Depression in California. Haynes's adaptation is apparently more faithful to the original novel (I've never read it). In the '45 film the prominent role of Lucy Gessler is eliminated completely--sort of combined with the role of Ida Corwin, Mildred's boss at the diner (the latter portrayed splendidly by Mare Winningham for this production). The HBO iteration brings Lucy back, and it's this character for which I'm imagining inserting Meryl. 

Portrayed by Melissa Leo (the second role of hers in three years I'm selecting), Lucy is Mildred's street-smart, somewhat wisecracking neighbor, who's got about as much deference for Prohibition as she does for men who leave their wives. She's a bit ahead of her time for a woman in the 1930s, and she offers support and encouragement to Mildred as she attempts to provide for herself and her two girls. I have tried in vain to find an extended clip of Leo's performance anywhere on the web. But I came upon this clip of director Todd Haynes breaking down the first of the five episodes in the limited series. In it, we get a little background on Lucy's role and her relationship to Mildred shortly after Mildred's husband leaves her. We get a few snippets of the character onscreen. Start at 1:55. 

I like the line from Lucy about Mildred's elder daughter, Veda, saying about Mildred taking a waitress job, which she considers frightfully beneath her, "Veda wouldn't do it herself but she's willing to let you do it, AND eat the cake." Lucy has identified what Mildred doesn't want to about her daughter: that she's a manipulative, cruel, and scheming snob. There are few characters in recent memory whom I dislike more than that of Veda Pierce in this HBO production. Portrayed by Evan Rachel Wood and Morgan Turner (young Veda), she is a soulless ingrate who selfishly ends up damaging everyone around her. It's a testament to both Wood and Turner's performances that they drew such a strong reaction. 

Mildred Pierce was well-received by critics, primarily for its acting. While some argued the series was too long or missed the opportunity to fully capture the full severity of the mother-daughter relationship when comparing it to the original film, it managed an 81% on Rotten Tomatoes. Overall it earned nine Emmy awards, with a staggering SIX of them in acting, including Leo for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. Leo was joined in her category by Wood and Winningham, while Guy Pearce and Brían F. O'Byrne earned Supporting Actor nods for portraying Mildred's second and first husbands, respectively. 

Mildred Pierce is a fantastic limited series with a character that I think Meryl would've enjoyed. There are plenty of roles smaller than this one that she's done over the years, likely because she believed in the material, the director, or the story's message. While not always critical or commercial successes, such films as Lions for Lambs, Rendition, Dark Matter, Evening, The Giver, and Suffragette come to mind. For the combination of the quality of the script, the director with home she'd get to work, and its exceptional cast, I suspect that there are far worse projects in which Meryl could've seen herself participating.  

Monday, March 6, 2023

Recasting 2011 (supporting): "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

For anyone familiar with this David Fincher film, they're probably wondering "what the hell part would Meryl play?" This is a similar scenario to my 1987 choice for this project, where fans of Empire of the Sun might have scratched their heads before reading the post. Like that one, however, I have my role and I have my reasons. 

First and foremost, I absolutely love the English-language film version of Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I've loved it from the first time I saw it during the same awards season in which Meryl won her third Oscar for The Iron Lady. Rooney Mara was up for the award in the same category. While the film's content is a bit raw and brutal at times, its overall feel and cinematography bring me back to it time and time again, especially during the cold, snowy months Minnesota is known for. 

Set in Stockholm in 2006, the film centers around Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who's tasked by an old rich businessman, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to solve the murder of his grandniece. It's this part of Harriet Vanger for which I'd recast Meryl. The apparent murder took place forty years prior to the film's contemporary story, and Rooney Mara's character, Lisbeth Salander, serves as the brilliant assistant to Blomkvist, after having compiled the background check on him for Vanger. 

One of the first questions in my mind when deciding whether or not Meryl would be age-appropriate for this role was the actual timing of the story. Considering that that actress who originally played the adult version of Harriet (Jolie Richardson) is sixteen years younger than Meryl, it might seem strange and inaccurate to cast someone that much older. But I'd argue that Richardson's casting is far more peculiar when one understands the timeline of the story. Harriet is meant to have disappeared in 1966 at the age of 16, which would mean she was born around 1950. The movie takes place in 2006, which would put Harriet at 56 years of age. Richardson would've been 45 at the time of filming. Meryl, 61. Meryl would've had zero problem convincingly portraying someone five years younger, so it actually would've been more authentic to have someone closer to her age. 

As I mentioned at the very beginning of this project, a handful of roles I selected might be considered glorified cameos. This is one of those instances. But the role is a more interesting one than most might consider. And had Meryl actually done Panic Room with David Fincher as I had proposed for my lead recasting project, it wouldn't have been too strange to picture her being tapped for a small role in a future film of his. 

The role of Harriet actually starts out as supposedly a different character, namely Harriet's cousin, Anita. But (spoiler), it ends up turning out that Harriet has been posing as Anita for many years to protect her own identity, after escaping the abuse of both her father and her brother. There could have been some fun challenges with this. Not only is there a role for the actor to play, but to some extent the character is having to act within the story herself. 


I have to add that the actor they cast to portray 16 year-old Harriet looks a fair bit more like Meryl than like Richardson:


I read an article a while back where David Fincher explained his deliberate intention of having his cast use European accents. It might seem a little weird when it's a hodgepodge of voices from different areas, but the overall effect of it simply feeling "European" was likely achieved. That said, I totally expect that Meryl would've chosen to do some variation of a Swedish accent, as did Mara and Plummer. Craig and Richardson just sounded English, which is fine. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was well-received by critics, with an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 71 on Metacritic. The film's violence and overt scenes of sex and sexual trauma probably turned off a handful of both critics and audience members, but in general the movie was praised. In addition to Mara's nomination for Actress in a Leading Role, the film garnered Academy Award nominations in four other tech categories, winning for Best Film Editing. I think the movie holds up well to this day, as mentioned above I've returned to it on a regular basis, and I expect to continue to do so. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

SAG Foundation to open Meryl Streep Center for Performing Artists

For whatever reason, I feel less and less inclined these days to post about non-specifically work-related Meryl topics. But I found the articles from a couple days ago about SAG-AFTRA's plans to open a center in Meryl's honor to be a touching bit of news. 

The Meryl Streep Center will be the West Coast complement to the Robin Williams Center that the SAG-AFTRA Foundation opened in Midtown Manhattan in 2016. Like its New York counterpart, the Los Angeles facility will feature a on-camera and voiceover recording studios, tech labs, classroom spaces and other infrastructure designed to help performers hone their skills and develop their careers.

I expect that we'll have more and more of these types of honors as Meryl gets further into the last years of her career. While I hope the end is very far off, there are only so many more projects one can expect to see when someone is fortunate enough to reach their eighth decade of life. With the recent announcement of Meryl joining the cast of season 3 of Only Murders in the Building and with Extrapolations set to premiere in just over two weeks, I feel the glimmer of an active string of years potentially on the horizon.   

The Meryl Streep Center for Performing Artists is set to open its doors in early 2024 in Los Angeles. 

Monday, February 27, 2023

Recasting 2010 (supporting): "The Fighter"

As I ended my last post in this project with a reference to director David O. Russell, we continue with a film he directed that ended up being the first in a series of three over a four year period that totally killed it with Oscar voters, particularly those in the acting branch. The Fighter (2010) earned three acting nods, Silver Linings Playbook four, and American Hustle four. That's a pretty incredible stat. Melissa Leo's fantastic performance in The Fighter was one of three of the above mentioned nominations that ended up taking home the gold (Christian Bale in the same movie in supporting, and Jennifer Lawrence in Lead for Silver Linings were the other). It's Leo's role for which I've chosen to imagine recasting Meryl. And even though this is another role originally portrayed by an actor over ten years younger than Meryl, it's actually more of a stretch for Leo than it would've been for Meryl. Leo is only eleven and fourteen years older than the two actors who play her sons (Mark Wahlberg and Bale, respectively). 

The film takes place near Boston, in Lowell, Massachusetts, and is a biopic of former boxers Micky Ward (Wahlberg) and his half-brother Dicky (Bale). Dicky struggles with crack addiction and is supposed to be helping Micky train. Their mother, Alice (Leo) serves as Micky's manager, who's been struggling as of late to win fights. When Micky has a shot at a title fight, Dicky sort of goes AWOL and Micky drops him, much to Alice's disapproval, who has Dicky on a pedestal. All the while this is going on, HBO is filming a documentary of Dicky, which he thinks is about his boxing career, when in reality, it's about crack abuse.

Much of the meaty material in this movie is basically the family fighting with each other. It's the kind of scenario where all they really have is each other, and even if one or all of them are a total and complete mess, there's a sort of co-dependence that ends up getting people hurt. 


It would've been fun to hear Meryl do the accent. I had hoped that we'd get to hear her do a Boston-ish accent in The Good House, but sadly that never panned out. The role of Alice feels like a mixture of Lee from Marvin's Room, Sister Aloysius from Doubt and Violet from August: Osage County. She's got street smarts and she's brassy and pushy without being a total nightmare.  

Amy Adams does a great job in this movie as well, playing against type as Micky's girlfriend. One of my all-time favorite movie line deliveries comes after Adams's character, Charlene, gets into a fight with Micky's sister(s). Toward the end of the scene, you can hear one of the sisters yell "Fuck you, Chaw-lene." I don't know what it is about it but it just cracks me up big time. It's a great scene for Alice as well so I'll share (the line is at 1:24). 


Still laugh-out-loud funny to me. 

In addition to its acting accolades, The Fighter scored seven total Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. The film was a box office hit as well, earning a worldwide total of $129 million against a $24 million budget. It was a great few years for Russell, and I wouldn't have minded seeing Meryl in on the action, especially since the aforementioned trio of films are so "people" based in their stories. It wouldn't surprise me, however, that if Meryl had had a chance to participate in some way, she would've stayed clear based on Russel's reputation for being combative or even abusive to his actors and crew. Who knows, maybe Meryl could've been the one to finally set him straight. 

Monday, February 20, 2023

Recasting 2009 (supporting): "Animal Kingdom"

First off, this movie was first released in early 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival, not in 2009. But since I wanted two movies from 2010, and Animal Kingdom was filmed in early 2009, it seemed the more natural choice to bump up a year. Had they wanted, this film could've easily been completed and given a wide release in late 2009. 

I've been interested for some time what it would be like to see Meryl in a role where she was the head of a crime family. I figured it would or could have been the kind of movie we'd see Meryl finally team up with Martin Scorsese. The matriarch of some wing of the Italian mafia, for example. As it turns out, Australian director David Michôd decided to write a screenplay loosely based on a real-life Melbourne crime family, and ended making one whopper of a great film.

The story follows the Cody family in Melbourne. Teenage Josh "J" Cody's mother has just died from an overdose, so he calls his grandma, Janine (Jacki Weaver) who invites him to move in. Janine's three sons and their close family friend run illegal jobs related to drugs and armed robbery. Cops are constantly watching the family and almost inevitably, J pulled into the shenanigans by his uncles. One detective (portrayed by Guy Pearce) tries to get to J before he sort of "turns" to the dark side. Knowing that J has talked to the police, Janine essentially communicates to the family lawyer that J needs to be wiped out. But J outsmarts his psychopath uncle "Pope" and ends up shooting him in the head before he can harm J. 

Organized crime families freak me out. Certainly the only experience I have with them is from what I've seen on TV or the movies. I think it's the fact that you can never quite tell where you stand with anyone. There's almost no sure thing in regard to trust, and you never know when someone's out to get you. Sometimes you might have to act in order to not be acted upon. And violently. There's definitely a lot of this in this movie, particularly with Janine. Quick side note: Janine's character's nickname is "Smurf," which is funny for an actor as short as Jacki Weaver, who's 4'11". I can't imagine Meryl, standing at 5'6" would be believable as someone who was nicknamed after a tiny creature, unless they got actors who were way taller than her to provide the contrast (which I'd prefer not to imagine since I like this cast so much). Unless they had her barefoot and everyone else wore lifts. Or maybe she'd just be someone who always like to wear blue all the time and it'd be more about the color versus the height. ANYWAY, I love how Janine has to sort of be calculating or vaguely pretending as a character a lot of the time on screen. She's outwardly very loving and affectionate (including creepy extended kisses on the mouth with her adult sons). But when it comes to business, she's ruthless. All with a smile on her face. 

Love that scene. Animal Kingdom received overwhelming rave reviews from critics. It's got a whopping 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and holds a score of 83 on Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim." It basically swept the Australian Film Institute Awards, while Weaver managed to break through with numerous North American critics groups and awards bodies. She won L.A. and the National Board of Review awards for Best Supporting Actress, and scored her first Oscar nomination that year. As an Australian indie film, not surprisingly it wasn't seen much outside of Australia. I guarantee it would've been had Meryl been in the role. But Weaver's brilliant portrayal broke her into Hollywood, and she earned a second Oscar nomination over two years later, for David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook.