Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Prime of Miss Meryl Streep

So... is there anything that Meryl Streep can't do? She's world reknowned at drama and accents but her talents don't stop there. Her filmography has also revealed her to be a fine vocalist (she sings in Postcards from the Edge, Silkwood, Death Becomes Her, and the upcoming Prairie Home Companion) and she's also proven time and again to be a deft comedienne. She's can do blisteringly dark humor (Manhattan) loopy and shameless clowning in silly trifles (She-Devil, Death Becomes Her) neurotic quippiness in dialogue heavy films (Postcards from the Edge) and now, in Prime she steals the show again in a performance that is so good it lifts the film into the clouds whenever she's onscreen. Here she's playing a guilt-inducing uptight Jewish mother who is an entirely different creature when working; Lisa Metzger the analyst is an open-minded, non-judgmental, and supportive maternal figure at work.

Prime, written and directed by Ben Younger (who is one to watch) is about a divorcée (Uma Thurman) falling in love with a much younger man (Bryan Greenberg) while her relationship with her therapist (Meryl Streep) gets more and more complex. Though the movie is charming it flounders around a lot, never quite sure how to resolve its central romantic dramedy. It also defies narrative movie expectations in a way that doesn't entirely serve it by letting the climactic reveals arrive with no fuss whatsoever. They play more like filler scenes than big moments. Yet Prime's strange quirks don't feel like those annoying script note driven "make-the-characters-memorable" screenplay ticks that so many comedies are burdened with. They feel more like genuine reaches for full characterizations.

Uma is radiant (speaking of someone in their prime) and well shot by the cinematographer William Rexer, Bryan Greenberg is appropriately hunky as her object of affection. But if the movie feels unbalanced, it's because the screenplay isn't entirely sure what to do with them and spends a lot of time proving that whereas Meryl Streep gets all the more tightly written scenes and nails them. She is spectacular to I'm sure noone's surprise. This elegant WASP queen is so great that she can play a fussy stereotypical screen Jewish mother / analyst with no trace of stereotype -Lisa just reads as a fully three-dimensional woman. Put her in a very funny ha-ha situation, dress her in loud clothing and a penchant for wearing too many necklaces and Meryl Streep will still get big laughs while avoiding coming across as anything less than human and nothing like a high-conceptgimmick.

So, I ask again. Is there anything this woman can't do?

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Get nominated for The Hours when she's the best thing about it?

No, I can't think of anything either. I even rated her in Manchurian, when viewed in context. (Clip excerpts did her no favours though...)

Rob

Anonymous said...

Is there any chance of an Oscar nomination for Ms. Streep? Leading? Supporting?
The Globes at least?

Marcelo.

Nick Davis said...

Rob - *Totally*. Salma Hayek is smart and kind, but she is a thief.

John T. said...

In a word, no. Meryl is good in everything-I have yet to see a film where she was anything less than superior.

As for Prime, she was the only watchable thing about it. It was dry, it was sloppy, and I couldn't believe Uma being interested in that cookie cutter pretty boy. Ben Younger seems to have watched Annie Hall too many times, and yet somehow didn't get it.

JavierAG said...

So I'm assuming Meryl and Ziyi will be fighting it out for the Best Supporting Actress trophy at the FiLM BITCH awards (what? you thought i was gonna say oscars? oscars are so passé :))

Anonymous said...

The only bad performance I watched of her was in The House of the Spirits... But that was lame... And Glenn Close stole the show as the evil and jealous Férula...

adam k. said...

My hunch is that Streep will be that one comedy actress nominee who has no chance of an oscar nod (stuck between Joan, Judi, Diane, Reese, and maybe others). But is there any way she could be dubbed supporting for this by the academy? She looks SO good in it.

adam k. said...

My hunch is that Streep will be that one comedy actress nominee who has no chance of an oscar nod (stuck between Joan, Judi, Diane, Reese, and maybe others). But is there any way she could be dubbed supporting for this by the academy? She looks SO good in it.

Nick Davis said...

I think that, come Oscar time, Prime will be wallowing around with Elizabethtown and the other October releases that were made in hopes of catching on, but didn't/won't. Not seeing any nomination action here, except maybe North Country.

Joe R. said...

I agree with Nick - no Oscar for Prime. But to continue a hypothetical discussion anyway: after seeing the Prime trailer, I said no way, no how on Streep as supporting. But after seeing the film, and seeing how pretty much all of Streep's big moments are the ones in the trailer, I think a case for Supporting could have been made. If she were an actual contender. Which she's not. Much as I love her.

Anonymous said...

After seeing the trailer for Prime I felt I had seen the entire movie three times, had a scene-by-scene analysis of it and came to the conclusion that I disliked it.

...man, definite contender for Worst. Trailer. Ever. Ugh. And what's the deal with that "oh, you crazy wacky kids" look Meryl has on the god awful poster? She's so wacky. (I love Meryl though)

This movie (and Streep) are not going to get anywhere near the Oscars. And I'd place a firm bet that it won't get any Globe action either. The film was obviously dumped by the studio and it flopped. I don't think even Meryl can rise above it.

The comedy slate is suprisingly strong this year.

I don't think Nat is saying she's going to be a film bitch nominee just yet.

-Glenn

adam k. said...

I would NOT count out Streep for comedy actress. The HFPA nominate her literally just about every year. Certainly every year she actually gives a performance. And this one was quite good, apparently. The slate is strong, but I think Streep will pull it out, even if oscar action is not to be. The fact that she is clearly by far the best thing about the movie won't hurt. And that category needs SOMEone who's not an oscar contender...

Anonymous said...

But it's such a meh movie. It won't even gross $50mil which is what all those Diane Lane/Hugh Jackman/etc nominees got for their random rom-com nominations.

I doubt it will get to $20mil even. And Meryl isn't exactly "hot right now" like those two prior nominees where at the time.

...i dunno. Logically it could happen, but i don't see it happening. Not for Prime

-Glenn

Anonymous said...

Wow. Critics praising Steep's comic acting ability in yet another mainstream "comedy" that they think sucks (Death Becomes Her, She-Devil, and now Prime). For such a talented comic actress, she sure makes an awful lot of poor comedies.

You sure they aren't just being lazy. Or does that only apply to Nicole Kidman.

Anonymous said...

Death Becomes Her is gold. PURE GOLD.

"There's a HOLE in my STOMACH!"

-Glenn

Anonymous said...

I am also BIG with the "Death Becomes Her" love. Top 10 Guilty Pleasure movie, without a doubt.

Rob

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see that I wasn't the only one who loved Meryl Streep in Prime. The critics, for the most part, hated the movie, but I rather enjoyed it - especially Streep. As soon as she appeared on screen, I started to smile. The performance reminded me of Frances McDormand in North Country in the sense that here is a highly respected actress in a supporting role and she absolutely nails it within the first couple minutes of screen time. From that point on, it was a pleasure to watch Streep, and McDormand, on screen.

NATHANIEL R said...

anonymous -you really aren't going to let this go are you? that's OK. I still love you.

But that said I hope you're not suggesting that Kidman's performance in Stepford Wives was equal to Meryl Streep's in Prime. Because if so: Yikes!

darkcypherlad said...

The movie was mediocre. Streep was fine, Uma was better, and I wanted to strangle that blank hino Greenberg. I can't remember the last time I was so annoyed by an actor/character.

Streep's Oscar chances are nil but they weren't that great to begin with. The big surprise this week is how (so far) Jarhead seems to be going down in flames. Negative reviews in Slant, Hollywood Reporter and Variety don't bode well.

Jason

Anonymous said...

nathanial: You kidder, you.

No, I'm not suggesting Kidman in Stepford had anything on Streep in Prime (but we both know you already knew that. It's Bewitched where Kidman's notices seem eerily similar to Streep's, ie" she's fantastic, but the movie bites").

What I am suggesting, is that you're giving Streep an easy "pass" for stuff that you'd gladly crucify Kidman for.

She-Devil is just as poor as The Steford Wives, if not slightly worse (imho).An 18 year passage of time and nostalgia does not make it any more endearing. And Streep is no more effective in that movie, than Kidman was in Stepford. In fact, I think Streep was badly miscast in She-Devil, wheras at least Kidman did her "straight woman" role in Stepford effectively.

Yet in your slightly revisionist description, Streep's participation in the trainwreck that was She-Devil, strangely becomes some sort of positive affirmation of her fearless range ("shamesless clowning in silly trifles") instead of what it really was: a mediocre performance in a terrible, unfunny film. Same goes for her misfire in Death Becomes Her (I thought her performance was good in that though).

You're a Spin doctor, in effect. For those you unfailingly admire, you can spin any mistake or misfire to look good (though even you seem to have trouble pulling that off with Julianne Moore's horrific comic turns. No one's that good a Spin Doctor.LOL!). You do this with Kirsten Dunst. You do it with Michelle Pfieffer. You're currently doing it with Streep.

For those you have a very grudging respect for (ie La Kidman), no such luck. No matter how good Kidman's performance reviews are in these little silly excursions, if the movie gets hammered, you'll also hammer Kidman (and accuse critics of being "lazy" in the bargin, for choosing not to hammer Kidman, but to praise her). So Kidman's work in Bewitched (for example) would never get a gentle "pass" from you and be described as "shameless and loopy clowning in a silly trifle". You dig out the worst adjective you can think of (ie "she was horrible") and belabor that point. And I say this without a trace of irony; I think Kidman was several times better and better cast in Bewitched, than Streep was in She-Devil.

My basic point is this. Because your admiration for Kidman, while obvious, is still somewhat grudging, is that if she ends up in a poor film vehicle (especially a poor commercial vehicle), you'll almost inevitablly blame her, as well as the actual movie. For the most part, you seem to have to like her films, to like (or give much credit) to her performances in them.

It's like this basically; If Kidman were the right age, and cast in Death Becomes Her, She-Devil and Prime, and gave the same standard and quality of performance, you'd likely blame her for the movies sucking. It's just that whole "grudging respect" thing you have with her.

If Kidman got Streep's calibre of reviews in something mediocre like Prime, you might grudingly admitt that she "did passably okay", but a "better" comic actress (like Sandra Bullock) would have made it a better movie.

Even though Streep did good in Prime, would casting Diane Keaton, a "better" comic actress than Streep make Prime a better movie? Probably not. But of course, Streep is never to blame for a comedy vehicle failing, while Kidman, it seems, always is.

NATHANIEL R said...

are you on Kidman's payroll? just asking.

And yes, the She-Devil thing could probably be called "revisionist" I haven't seen it since it opened and I remember thinking the movie was awful . But I stand firmly by Death Becomes Her when it comes to all three of the lead performances.

I loved Kidman in a lot of things. But there is no way I'm ever going to be convinced that she was any good in Bewitched. Or convinced that she is infallible. When she is good she is very very good (Flirting, To Die For, Moulin Rouge, The Others, The Hours, Birth, Dogville --that's a pretty healthy run of fine work), when she is not I will acknowledge it.

and you must not have been reading this site long because I was horribly unsympathetic to Meryl Streep in The Manchurian Candidate. If someone is bad, even if I love them, I will say so. Julianne Moore is bad in Laws of Attraction. Michelle Pfeiffer is bad in Up Close and Personal.

I don't give people free 'get out of jail' cards. It's just a natural case of "they're my favorites for a reason" --i.e. MOST of the time I find them stunning onscreen.

So, yes, I love Meryl Streep more than I love Nicole Kidman. They have both given bad performances in their career. They have both given classic performances. Meryl just has way more of the latter.

Anonymous said...

Nope. I'm not on Kidman's payroll.

Are you on Kirsten Dunst's? LOL.

Seriously, I'm just not a fan of what I percieve to be hypocrisy and double standards. The whole praising Streep for She-Devil thing just irked me. Especially after your whole anti-Bewitched spiel.

At least you can admit it was revisionism at play. Fair play to you.

Eh, no way is Kidman infallible. I just don't think she's as fallible as you sometimes make her out to be. But I'll drop that for now, and chalk it down to conflicting opinions.

I totally agree that Streep has given way more classic performances than Kidman as well. Age and a longer career is probably a factor in that though.

Joe R. said...

Wow, there seem to be a whole lot of hypotheticals and assumptions in that argument of yours, Anonymous. It's not like your assertion that She-Devil is as bad or worse than Stepford Wives is anything but an opinion. At the very least, She-Devil kept my attention (and how, in 2005, am I arguing the relative merits of She-Devil?!). Same thing with the value judgments on Kidman-in-Bewitched vs. Streep-in-She-Devil. And the "if Nicole made Meryl's comedies, you'd hate her" arguments are crazy speculative.

Someone's a "spin doctor" here. Just not sure it's who you think it is.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you didn't realise that I used the abbreviation "imho" several times in my assesment of the relative merits of She-Devil/Bewitched/Stepford ect.

imho- stands for "in my honest opinion".

So yeah, I'm very aware that I'm only stating my own forceful opinion. Thanks for telling me that though.

And I'm a crazy speculative sorta guy.

Anonymous said...

Oh god, throw in some political spiel and we've turned into Dave Poland's Hot Blog!

Nathaniel, you are a biased liberal and we ALL know liberals are the scum of the earth (that should get the ball rolling).

-Glenn

Anonymous said...

Bah. Kidman's not as good as Streep. There, I said it. Now we can all lie down and rest.

Rob

adam k. said...

I always thought IMHO meant "in my humble opinion".

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the tug of war the two of you had between Streep and Kidman... for what it is worth, Streep can do no wrong (imho) "humble" being the operative word .. Kidman is good, but nowhere in the same class as Streep.

Anonymous said...

Meryl Streep best actress?? Has anyone not heard of Emma Thompson?? C'mon Emma is the best actress ever. Sorry Meryl, but you had a long run and yo can keep it up, but Emma will always be the better actress.

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paul davies said...

I think Meryl has a goog chance she is an outstandig actress and has a voice to mach go meryl