Dear Meryl Streep

Art & Culture

Dear Meryl Streep,?

And so we come to that time of year again. Obviously you'll be nominated for an Oscar early in 2012. The question is, will you win? I say a big fat Greek YES.
Let me first of all admit to a personal prejudice. In the words of Jim Carrey when performing this very public tribute to you – 'YOU'RE SIMPLY THE BEST, YOU'RE BETTER THAN ALL THE REST" etc etc. So let me not for one moment suggest that I have the slightest degree of objectivity where you are concerned. There is no contest. Everyone else is simply following in your dust. Just to make that clear.

So, what can I say that might be regarded as critical? Apart from Mamma Mia, of course, which is complete dross, although it is your presence that made it at all bearable. Looking back over the 35 years of your career so far, most of the bad choices came in the earlier period when you chose parts that really didn't suit you. Doing very broad comedy alongside Brice Willis and Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her; trying (and failing) to do romantic drama with the unappealing Robert de Niro in Falling In Love; and being wildly miscast in the painfully unfunny American version of She-Devil. Those are the lowspots, but it's not a very long section out of 60-odd films. So we can draw a line under the stiffs, and move on to sing a paean of praise to your greatness.

But before I do that, I just want to mention what I see as your film star/actress development. As the years have gone by, you have emerged as a woman with a great sense of humour, self-deprecating, aware of the absurdities of being a movie star and – seemingly – unaffected by all the fuss and hoopla that has been coming your way for over three decades. Perhaps the longer it goes on, the easier it is to dismiss it as so much froth and nonsense.

Choosing my favourite Meryl films is not easy, because there's a lot to choose from, but I will start with Adaptation, because it's not a film that is mentioned that often, and it is an exquisitely clever, subtle and funny Charlie Kauffman movie in which you display your full comic range. It's too complex to explain how and why, but my favourite scene is the one where you are on the phone with Kauffman (Nicolas Cage), stoned out your head on orchid dust, trying to reproduce the dial tone. Genius. From there, we will nip across to Angels In America, a 6 hour HBO epic about the spread of AIDS in 80s America. You play – among other things – a rabbi and Ethel Rosenberg. There's a scene where you (as Rosenberg, who is dead), sit in a hospital room next to a bed containing the scumbag Roy Cohn (Al Pacino). It's an astonishingly good scene in an amazing film.

These two roles indicate that the core of your skill lies in your ability to inhabit a part rather than take it over. There was a time back in the late 70s and early 80s where you tended to try too hard. Your accents, whether Polish, Danish, Australian or English, were sooo perfect that unkind critics mocked you for your compulsion to be beyond reproach. I think it was your absolute commitment to giving everything that caused you to be so dedicated, but it's true that while you are superb in Out Of Africa, A Cry In The Dark, The French Lieutenant's Woman and Sophie's Choice, it is impossible to avoid the sense that you are straining every sinew to Get It Right. As you have got older wiser, you can see the fun there is to be had in acting, and that being a Queen Diva in The Devil Wears Prada, or a batty aunt in Lemony Snicket is as much fun as playing a wicked nun in Doubt. For me, one of the best recent roles has been as Julia Child in Julie and Julia. Who else but you could look quite so large, speak quite so LOUDLY, and still seem to be having a whale of a time?

You now have the ability both to act and to perform, to be superbly entertaining and at the same time make us watch in awe at you ability to become another person. If I was to be picky, I'd say it's a while since you appeared in anything approaching a great film, but that's partly because you yourself represent greatness, and therefore dominate any movie in which you appear. Great movies require a kind of anonymity on the part of the actors who take part. You are a  great big star and actress, with – hopefully – a lot more films in your locker. There's no sign of you slowing up, losing your mojo, doing a Brando, or suddenly deciding that you want to be a director. You know what you're good at, you're even better than you used to be, and you rule.

Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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