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. 

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Trailer released for "Extrapolations"

Apple TV+ has released a trailer for their upcoming anthology series, Extrapolations.

First reaction I had of course was Meryl was barely in it. And just at the end. She looked potentially like someone who might be ill or dying, talking to Sienna Miller's character, who plays her daughter. With a cast this big, it's hard to showcase any one person too much, but several other characters had more time than Meryl, which seems to confirm my suspicions that she won't be in this a lot. And that's OK. She's likely more involved because of the concept of the show's focus on the potential catastrophic consequences of unchecked climate change, versus being super drawn to the character on the page itself. But who knows, maybe we'll see more of her than I'm expecting. 

The rest of the trailer I thought looked pretty good. It looks like the show has a really high production value, and it's a very timely and important topic to be showcasing. Couldn't ask for a better cast, so I expect the performances to be outstanding as well. 

Extrapolations debuts on Friday, March 17 with its first three episodes. The remaining five will air weekly following that. 

Monday, February 13, 2023

Recasting 2008 (supporting): "Rachel Getting Married"

Similar to my last selection, I had not seen this week's pick prior to deciding to do a supporting recasting project. I watched a ton of movies during the first year of the pandemic, and I was happy to identify a role in Jonathan Demme's 2008 film, Rachel Getting Married, that would suit Meryl. Debra Winger hadn't really done a lot of movies in the decade or so before this film was released. While not a huge role, her performance as Abby Buchman would've been an interesting one to see Meryl negotiate, in an excellent film to boot. 

The film follows Kym Buchman (Anne Hathway), who's released from a drug rehab center for a few days to attend her sister Rachel's (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. It doesn't take long for tensions to flare, as there are a slew of family resentments and grievances ready to be aired. Notably, Kym, while high on drugs years prior, drove into a lake with her little brother in the car with her, killing him. It's hard to imagine any amount of apologizing or request for forgiveness would make someone feel unburdened of that history. As welcoming as Rachel and their father (Bill Irwin) may be, it's obvious that Kym's presence in one way or another is both painful and exhausting. Kym of course feels this too, and can't help but attempt to paint herself as the victim of unrealistic expectations. This all makes for some of the most effectively awkward moments that I can recall seeing onscreen. 

At one point, Kym seeks refuge from her mother, now seemingly somewhat estranged from her daughters, and it doesn't exactly go well. 

Right when you think Kym is a selfish asshole, and that next to the victim himself, Abby is probably the person who's had to bear the worst of his loss, our minds get flipped a little bit. Kym demands to know why her mother chose to leave her in charge of her little brother. She makes a good point. Most of us probably put ourselves in the situation of imagining what we'd do if one of our children was known to be a drug addict, and whether or not we would be OK with placing another of our child in their care. Yikes. It's probably easy to say "no" right away. But do we really know? Like Abby says here, "You were good with him. You were the best you were with him." And, "I didn't expect you to kill him!" It's such a powerful and painful scene. Kym's sort of at a crossroads, and Abby has probably grappled with the question that only Kym will bring up. They both feel responsible, and Abby ends up whacking her daughter across the face in one of the most realistic on-screen slaps I've ever seen. 

As I mentioned, it's not a huge role, but that scene alone could make for a great part. And Winger is exceptional here. The back and forth in this scene reminds me of Meryl being quoted (which I'm sure I've mentioned at some or many other times on this blog) as saying that she likes things that are "difficult." Not necessarily technically challenging things as an actor, but difficult moral or personal dilemmas in stories. They make us think and think differently. I like that, too, and it's one of the reasons I enjoy watching Meryl work so much. It's also why I could totally have seen her saying yes to a role like this one, perhaps if Jonathan Demme (who directed her four years prior in The Manchurian Candidate) would have approached her for it. 

Rachel Getting Married was Demme's best-reviewed film since 1991's The Silence of the Lambs. Its almost documentary-like feel was lauded by critics and made several top ten lists for 2008. Being more of an indie film, not a ton of people saw it when it was released, resulting in very modest box office returns. Winger did manage a Supporting Actress nom from the New York Film Critics Circle, as well as one from the Independent Spirit Awards. Hathaway, in likely the best performance of her career, won recognition from several critics' circles, as well as Lead Actress nominations at the SAGs, Golden Globes and Academy Awards.  

Monday, February 6, 2023

Recasting 2007 (supporting): "Hairspray"

I had a different movie in mind for 2007 for over a year. The closer I got to having to write about it, the less convinced I was about it being appropriate for the spirit of what I've tried to do for this project (for anyone curious, it was Tilda Swinton's role in Michael Clayton). I decided to take a look back at movies that were released in 2007, and realized that I had NEVER seen Hairspray. What's weird is that I'd been rather familiar with several songs from the soundtrack, but had never taken the time to sit down and watch the whole movie. A few weeks ago, I finally did. 

I was relieved pretty quickly that I'd found a much more natural fit for a film choice for 2007. One of the things I like is that it's nice departure from so much of the heavier stuff I'd chosen the past several weeks. I realize that The Station Agent and Sideways have comedic elements, but Hairspray is full-on musical, in addition to it being a comedy. Michelle Pfeiffer's role of Velma Von Tussle, the racist villainess TV manager, seemed a fun turn to imagine Meryl tackling. 

Directed by notable choreographer, Adam Shankman, the film was a screen adaptation of the 2002 Broadway show, which in turn was an adaptation of John Waters's 1988 film. It takes place in the 60s in Baltimore, where young Tracy Turnblad's (portrayed by newcomer Nikki Blonsky) biggest dream is to be one of the dancers on the Corny Collins Show. Tracy meets resistance from Velma, who not only wants to protect her own daughter's prime spot on the show, but is also pushing hard against the rising tide of ending the segregation of the show's black and white dancers. 

It's a true villain role, one of which would be very few in Meryl's canon. We've seen aspects of a character like this in her work. The Manchurian Candidate, The Devil Wears Prada, Rendition, Big Little Lies. But this character has that extra layer of being racist and sizist, and so overtly, that there's not really much redeemable about her. I think the value in the characterization is how much the actor can make us dislike her. This draws a stronger emotional reaction for the protagonist(s), which ultimately makes for a more deeply felt experience when watching the movie. Plus, Meryl would get to sing a bit (which up to that point in her career she hadn't really done a lot of). God bless Michelle Pfeiffer and I love her, but Meryl has a much stronger singing voice and would've done Velma's solo greater justice. 

There are some similar threads in character to that of Meryl's performance as Dee Dee Allen in 2020's The Prom, but with a much more provocative and sinister nature. Meryl doesn't tend toward films that include a major component of sex appeal or a sort of femme fatale, so this would actually be a bit of a stretch for her. But I enjoy that. And I can picture Meryl being interested in participating in a story that tackles the prejudices that culminated in the Civil Rights Movement. Especially one that looks like it was a ton of fun to make. 

I was a bit surprised by how many big stars were actually in this movie. John Travolta of course was lauded for his cross-dressing turn as Tracy's mother, Edna. But there were a lot of cameos (notably John Waters and Ricki Lake) and smaller roles from the likes of Allison Janney, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah, James Marsden, Jerry Stiller, Zac Efron, Amanda Bynes, and Brittany Snow. Travolta was also praised for his Baltimore accent, something I can't imagine Meryl wouldn't have included at least a hint of in her character, assuming she played her as someone who'd lived in the area for a long time. 

Hairspray went on to earn big bucks at the box office, tallying $203 million on a $75 budget. At the time, it set a record for the highest-grossing opening weekend for a film based on a Broadway musical. This record was broken only a year later by a little movie called Mamma Mia! The film did remarkably well with critics as well, with a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 81 on Metacritic. While it didn't garner too many high-profile acting nominations (Blonksy and Travolta earned noms at the Golden Globes for Actress and Supporting Actor in a Musical or Comedy, respectively), the cast managed a SAG nomination for Best Ensemble.