It’s been a while since I’ve written one of my lengthy explanations of why I don’t like someone’s work. Arguably, I write every week, twice, about why I do—when I’m celebrating the living or paying attention. I suppose I feel that, when you say nice things about people as often as I do, you’re entitled to crab a bit about people you don’t like. There is also my ongoing feeling that, when I write it out, I’m explaining once and never have to do so again. You can just point to the article and be done.
I’m not sure when I first saw a Meryl Streep movie. I’m thinking the first one I saw was probably Silkwood, which is one of the few I’ll defend despite my dislike of her—though even there, I’m likely to grumble about how the other performances tend to get ignored. I’m pretty sure I saw it in high school—I can’t imagine having seen most of her movies before then, since the first one she made that would likely have been of interest to me younger wasn’t even made until then. Death Becomes Her came out in 1992, when I was a freshman in high school. So for some time, I don’t remember having much of an opinion one way or the other.
I did hear an awful lot about her movies, though. As I’ve mentioned before, Mom watched At the Movies every week, so my formative years included hearing her praised for Out of Africa and Ironweed. Neither of which I saw until relatively recently, so I did not then have an opinion. But it was clear that everyone, everyone, thought she was a Great Actress. In fact, she was the go-to example of a Great Actress if you weren’t looking at people who’d acted in black and white.
And then I actually started watching movies with her in them, and I . . . wasn’t impressed? Oh, yes, Sophie’s Choice. But I don’t know if it’s that she’s barely in The Deer Hunter or that I just don’t remember her; that’s definitely a movie about men, and she, as the token woman, barely registers. But almost the only two movies of hers where I’ve thought she was really good in a challenging role were in 1982 and 1983. It’s not that she’s been bad in most of the movies of hers that I’ve seen, though there is Into the Woods, and Out of Africa is so dull that it’s hard to say if she’s objectively worse than the surrounding film. It’s that she has not, in my opinion, been particularly good. Certainly not deserving of the praise she’s showered with.
Oh, I know. Not a popular opinion. Though even her most devout fans will grant me The Iron Lady, I’ve discovered. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her in a role that I didn’t think another actress could play and probably better. Even Silkwood gets slightly confused in my head with Norma Rae. Sally Field, given a chance, could have been very good as Karen Silkwood. Though I grant you I’m not sure who I’d cast as Sophie.
Not that “no one else could play that role as well” is necessary for me to consider someone a good actress; for one thing, that’s an awfully subjective concept. (Though, fans of hers, give me Into the Woods as well—for one thing, Bernadette Peters is only a year older than Streep.) But it strikes me that, when Streep plays a role, everyone falls all over themselves to say no one else could do it, even when that is, as in Into the Woods, just demonstrably untrue. So if you don’t believe she’s anything spectacular, it just gets hard to take and builds into some pretty serious dislike over the years. I’ve started joking that my dislike of her is merely bringing needed balance to the universe.
I mean, I first saw Oscar buzz for her for Julie and Julia while that movie was still filming. And it’s worth noting that the buzz specifically suggested Best Actress. Now, I’ve read Julie and Julia, apparently one of the people who has, and there’s no reason to believe from reading the book that Julia Child would be the lead role in the movie, since she barely appears in the book. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about, here.
I don’t hassle her about the accent thing, though. She’s managed to avoid that trap for some time now; jokes about Meryl Streep’s accents is kind of the film equivalent of jokes about airline food.
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