Music of the Heart

How did I completely forget about N Sync’s song from this movie?! As it played during the end credits, images of the music video and the boys in a school hallway with Gloria Estefan came flooding back.

But we’re not talking about N Sync, we’re talking about Meryl. Had this film come out a few years earlier, I’d have been all over it. I was raised on inspirational family films of the 90s. Except I was a freshman or soph in high school when this was released, so I was too cool for that (despite the N Sync connection).

This movie is def one of those where Meryl got nominated bc she’s Meryl. No other actress would have gotten this kinda attention. But of course she knocked it outta the park.

I actually rather enjoyed this movie. It wasn’t quite as sugary as I expected. Her character had some bite and some arc to her. We saw her establish her program and then fight to save it years later. That finale was so moving, watching the big performance play out. Teachers looking for a film to watch in class on your hangover days, consider this!

One True Thing

Wow this movie is so 90s. Normally, if I would say a statement like that it’d be drenched in nostalgia, but I’m not sure how much the 90s vibe is a good thing here. It’s making it difficult to take this seriously as an Oscar contender or a Meryl Streep film. It was the year where Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan and Roberto Benigni stole it from Edward Norton, so I guess the Academy was on crack that year.

Srsly tho, the costumes, the score, the cinematography, the title, the Renee Zellwegger. So so 90s.

Renee is a young professional who moves back home when Mama Meryl is diagnosed with cancer. I’m struggling to watch this, and I think it’s because of how demanding and calloused the dad (William Hurt) was about insisting that she do this. Something my parents were always so so good about is allowing me to live my life, and not allowing any of their issues to get in the way. Daddy never let on how sick he was at the end so that I wouldn’t worry. Mom has gotten as many of her affairs in order so she won’t be a burden later, and under no circumstances would want me to have to take sole care of her. This is something I appreciate more than I could possibly articulate, and seeing parents in this film that are doing the exact opposite breaks my heart.

I really don’t get this as a nominee. First off, Meryl is up for lead, but this is really Renee’s film. Second, this is not an Oscar caliber film. But Meryl is playing a sickly mother, which is often an awards bait-y type of role. We hadn’t seen her do that yet, and of course, the Academy recognizes her every time she does something different.

Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa, this movie is set in the 80s? Did anyone tell the production design? Or the costumer? Did I mention I’m live blogging this entry (with a delayed posting).

Okay Meryl just had an epic monologue (even if the dialog is cliche) and the nomination is making more sense. Still surprises me though that they took this movie that seriously.

The Bridges of Madison County

I believe seeing the promos for this movie back in the day were the first time I ever heard the name “Meryl Streep”. At the time, I simply thought this film looked like an old people’s romantic film, and nothing I’d be at all interested in. Watching it now, I certainly don’t think I could have appreciated it had I seen it any sooner.

No, this is not the sort of movie I go for, but I’m glad for having finally watched. It truly is beautiful, if you let yourself get lost in it. Okay, the framing with the adult children is rather cheesy, but the main story is stunning.

Whodda thunk that Clint Eastwood actually plays romantic lead rather well too, yeah? The chemistry between the two of them is palpable, and I see why this has become a classic romantic film. It’s certainly miles above any romcom from the same era, that’s for damn sure.

Postcards from the Edge

Now, we move into the 90’s which were far less generous with the awards than her other career decades. This is the first of only three (gasp!)

I actually really like this movie. It’s based off Carrie Fisher’s book which is a fictionalization of her life, focusing in on her struggles with addiction and relationship with her mother. I always like movies about Hollywood, and here it’s sort of just the background of the real story.

We’ve got sassy Meryl here, not a look we see often from here, and I love it. I want to see more of that side. She’s got a snappy comeback for everything, to deflect every possible situation or chance at emotion. It’s brilliantly written and expertly performed.

A Cry in the Dark

I feel bad now that Dingoes At My Baby is my favorite fictitious band. I had no idea there was a basis of truth to that phrase.

Meryl heads down under and puts on an Aussie accent to play the real life Lindy Chamberlain. While on a camping trip with her family, her infant is carried away by a dingo and killed. Except, not everyone is buying that story, and Lindy finds herself on trial for murder.

What I found interesting about the film is that it’s done from a perspective that Lindy truly is innocent. That’s never called into question. IRL, there’s still a lot of controversy over that, and many who still believe that she’s guilty. I think it would have made an more intriguing and engaging story with some ambiguity.

Of course, Meryl is fantastic. Lots of emotion and depth, with an accent thrown on top. Storywise, this is one that’s more up my alley than we’ve seen on this journey and I’m thankful I have Meryl to take me there.

Out of Africa

Meryl ventures from middle America to the wilds of Africa. This movie had been on my watch list for a very long time, but I gotta be real with you guys (all 5? of you). I wasn’t really paying too much attention. So let’s just take the summary straight off IMDB.

“In 20th-century colonial Kenya, a Danish baroness/plantation owner has a passionate love affair with a free-spirited big-game hunter.”

I don’t know, I just couldn’t do it. I was more of a period piece than I expected, and it wasn’t the story I thought. I guess I thought it’d be more safari less stuffy (it wasn’t really stuffy, but again, unexpected).

Yeah I wish I had more substance to bring to this post, but sometimes, I just don’t have it. Thankfully Meryl does have it, so we’ll have more to talk about soon!

Ironweed

And she does it again! Meryl pulls out something completely different we haven’t seen from her, and the Academy has no choice but to award her with her fifth lead nomination, seventh total.

Her role here is a lead in that it’s substantial, but the story is really about Jack Nicholson’s Francis. Francis is a drifter who has just returned to his hometown of Albany. He hasn’t been back since he left decades earlier after a mistake that tore his family apart. Meryl comes in because she’s his kind of girlfriend on the street. They pal around together, both supporting each other and allowing each other to avoid their problems.

This is some major character work from Meryl. An accent and an attitude that is unlike anything we’ve seen, because she is inhuman. Nay, she is a goddess! She has this amazing scene early on where she performs a lounge number, and if you watch no other part of this film, watch those five minutes. They’re extraordinary.

Silkwood

Now we’re getting into a large block of first time watches. What’s surprising me (and it really shouldn’t) is how different each role I’m discovering is from the one before. I personally like to see actors get Oscar nominations when they do something completely different for them, so just allow me to point out these string of nods she got in the 80’s. Silkwood scored her third consecutive lead nomination.

This time, in a screenplay by Nora Ephron, Meryl plays the real life Karen Silkwood. She worked in a nuclear processing plant, and becomes very active with their union after realizing how unsafe the working conditions really are. Of course, the big bosses in charge aren’t having that, and she’s attacked and abused and ultimately dies under mysterious circumstances.

So Madame Meryl is coming off of Sophie’s Choice and takes a total 180 to play a small town middle America woman. She’s not just some morally driven activist. She’s a complicated character, dealing with a life of making mistakes and being looked over who has just had it. She’s finally standing up for herself (as well as her friends and family) and is brought under attack. Not exactly what she was hoping for, but at this point, she has nothing left to lose.

Sophie’s Choice

Another nomination, and this time her first win as leading actress. There’s no question in my mind that this is Meryl Streep’s best performance. However, in rewatching this, I realized that it might be the single greatest performance of all time.

I made that realization about 25 minutes into the movie, still two hours away from THAT scene. THAT scene would be enough to justify an Oscar win for anyone. But there’s so much more to this movie than just THAT scene. Hell, if you knew nothing about this movie, you’d be impressed with her performance, wanting to give her all the awards and then be completely blindsided by what happens.

Why is it the greatest performance of all time? There are so many layers and levels to it. You have happy post-war Sophie. You have sickly fresh from the concentration camp Sophie. You have trapped in captivity Sophie. So many different sides of Sophie, all of them drastically different in her physicality and demeanor, and every one distinct in the hands of an expert. AND on top of that, there’s accent work (including Sophie at various stanges of knowing English) AND there are entire scenes in other languages (I think Polish primarily). Just a fraction of these factors would be impressive. This is all one role in one movie (and can I get a shout out for such a weighty and complicated role being written for a woman!) and yes THAT scene.

I’m gonna be real with you guys, this is a really hard movie to watch. It has some of the darkest subject matter in our planet’s history. But the experience of watching Meryl Streep in this role absolutely makes it worth it. This is a must watch at least once in your lifetime.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

We move on to Meryl’s first lead nomination, and the first on this list that I’d never seen. Let’s be real, with a title like that, only Meryl would have drawn me to it.

This one surprised me in how I responded to it. In this film, Meryl has dual roles in a parallel story. First is the actual story of the French Lt’s Woman, who in the 19th century (maybe?) lives this life of an outcast with a questionable reputation, and the engaged man (Jeremy Irons) who is drawn to her. Not something I’d typically go for. What I do go for is the parallel story of a film adapation of this story, where the leads live out a love affair that plays out much like the story they’re adapating.

Here’s what surprised me. I expected to be into the film storyline more, but it was the original that I was more invested in. The “real world” story just didn’t draw me in. I think part of it was that the “fictional” story got a disproportionate amount of the screen time. So when we did get the modern story, I felt jolted out of the one that was taking up more of the time. I think I also felt less sympathy for the characters that were obviously engaging in an extra marital affair that would hurt both spouses, than I did for the relationship where their biggest obstacle was society’s views.

Anyhoo, we’re talking Meryl and of course good performance and two very different sides of her. Honestly, I’ve seen the next movie on the list (Sophie’s Choice) before writing this up, so I really can’t make any real judgement of her performance here since it pales in comparison to her next. But we’re not talking about Sophie’s yet. IMDB trivia does say that Meryl thinks this is one of her weaker roles, but weak for her is still miles above normal people.