Monday, January 2, 2023

Recasting 2002 (supporting): "White Oleander"

It's been documented that Barbra Streisand was offered the chance to star in and direct White Oleander, the 2002 film adapted from Janet Fitch's novel of the same name. It was this tidbit that helped convince me that the part of Ingrid, originally portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer, could totally have been played by Meryl. I'm always aware of age when imagining recasting these films. Pfeiffer is nine years younger than Meryl, while Streisand is seven years older than her. If the powers that be thought Barbra would work fine in the part of the cold, striking, murderess mother in the pic, I'm sure Meryl would've sufficed as well. Peter Kosminsky eventually took the helm as director, and the rest is history.

Ingrid is a self-absorbed, somewhat hippie-like artist who's as cynical about the world as they come. She's sent to life in prison after she kills her cheating lover by poisoning him with the flower Oleander. The movie is shown through the experience of Ingrid's teenage daughter, Astrid (Alison Lohman), who's bounced around to different foster homes, enduring at times awful and dangerous situations. A good portion of Ingrid's scenes are when Astrid comes to visit her in prison. I personally can think of very few worse hells than serving a long prison sentence in a high-security facility. Ingrid's a tough bird though, and despite a bad bruise on her face, she hasn't seemed to lose much of her pluck when we see her meet with Astrid for the first time. 

I love how much of a bitch she is. I've tried to picture Meryl in any other role she's done where she played someone as calculating and cold as Ingrid. Maybe Mary Louise in Big Little Lies, but that's more the sweet on the surface but crazy granny type, versus a femme fatale who's smarter than everyone, knows it, and has little issue making those others aware of it. It's also difficult for me to identify any other character that would be less sympathetic than Ingrid. 

Her penultimate scene is a great opportunity for any actress to show their chops. At the same time, you kind of want to just give Ingrid the finger.  

What's enticing about imagining Meryl in a scene like the above is that as unlikable as Ingrid may be here, Meryl is superb at making people empathize with her characters, regardless of how remote they may seem from us. 

Robin Wright and RenĂ©e Zellweger both have great turns as two of Astrid's foster parents. Those two along with Pfeiffer and Lohman made for a memorable and very Scandinavian-looking movie poster. 

Pfeiffer snagged a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Actress in a Supporting Role, and won with both the Kansas City and San Diego film critics bodies. The film holds a pretty decent score of 71% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 61 on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews." While many thought the screenplay left a bit to be desired, the performances of the four main ladies were almost universally praised. 


  1. Well yet again we have the same choice, brilliant pick Jeff!
    I'm surprised Michelle didn't get more attention for this but 2002 was such a strong year for Best Supporting actress. I personally think Meryl gives her best performance of the decade in "Adaptation", just squeaking past "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Doubt". So layered, funny, sexy, smart and exciting. I also remember her Golden Globe speech was one of the funniest ever. As great as Catherine was in "Chicago" I still feel Meryl's Susan Orlean was more compelling.

    I considered the Susan Sarandon role in "Igby Goes Down" then Matron Mama Morton in "Chicago", but I really like the work Queen Latifah does with in the film so decided to leave it. The former I don't really recall so passed on it too, although I see Sarandon competed with Meryl at the Globes in Supporting.

    I ultimately chose the role of Catherine Nickleby, mother to Charlie Hunnam's Nicholas in the Dickens adaptation of "Nicholas Nickleby". My main reason would be getting to see Meryl negotiate (an admittedly small) role in the breezy adaptation of an English classic. If Meryl had graced the (acclaimed) production they may well have left in a little more meat for her to work with!

    Happy new year to you and all the blog readers :)

    1. Happy New Year!

      Couldn't agree more on Meryl's performance in Adaptation. I loved Chicago when it came out (and still do), but Meryl was totally robbed that year, as good as Catherine Zeta-Jones was. And ugh, haven't seen Igby Goes Down.