Month: September 2015

Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady (2011)

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Meryl Streep received her 17th (!!!) Oscar nomination and her 3rd Oscar for playing Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2011).

It’s kinda hard to describe how I feel about Meryl Streep these days. I initially didn’t want to cover her that much because all other Oscar blogs have covered her work pretty thoroughly, but I guess I eventually gave in with this post being my third review of her performances. There was a time where, like many others, I consider her the greatest actress ever. And then I started getting exposed to the brilliance of Anne Bancroft, Geraldine Page, Ellen Burstyn and I sortof understand the issues that people have with her. Personally, I still consider her one of the best, especially with such a killer acting resume, but I have to admit that she is a tiny bit over-praised.

The year of 2011 is generally considered a weak year for the best actress category – actually, I strongly beg to differ. Maybe it’s because I’m super lenient, or I “know nothing” about acting, but I was pretty damn impressed with what I’ve seen. Viola Davis gave a beautiful, heartwrenching portrayal in The Help, while Glenn Close’s “boring, one-note” performance broke my heart (that monologue when she talked about her past has always stayed with me). Michelle WIlliams was limited by a dull film, but even her Marilyn Monroe had a certain vulnerability and mystery that made you drawn to her. And I have also heard many positive things about Rooney Mara’s Lisabeth, even though I have yet to watch the film. Of course, I still think that Charlize Theron should easily have won the Oscar for Young Adult, but I still have a deep admiration for the nominated performances in this category.

I never wanted to watch Meryl Streep’s work here mainly because of the negativity that surrounded this win. I know we should ultimately form our own judgement, but I’ve always considered Streep’s previous two wins to be among the most deserving ever, and I kinda not want to spoil it. Furthermore, like many others, I was a bit disappointed with her Julia Child (though I don’t think it is that terrible) as I felt that she was really just showing off her mimicry skills, which made me even warier of The Iron Lady, a movie that’s ripped apart by so many.

Deservedly, I may add. The Iron Lady is a pretty dull and superficial film that gives you not much insight on this woman’s life. In fact, I always feel as if the filmmakers were like “ok fuck it, let Streep do the job” because the whole thing feels so disjointed and awkwardly paced. The first 30 minutes were so dull and slow  and then when it came to the part about Thatcher’s political life it adopts this superficial “touch and go”  approach that barely tells you anything. And those weird camera angles! Urgh, they made Tom Hooper look like a pro. Jim Broadbent was also stuck in a weird role that serves no purpose at all, unless it was for comic relief, which it then failed I guess. I mean, his actual performance was fine but what can you do with such a poorly written part? I know I’m being overly-harsh here (a rarity, heh), but I could not help but feel so annoyed at all the missed opportunities in the film.

Still, if there was one saving grace to this film, it would be Meryl Streep. Sorry haters, but I think I might as well say it now – she’s absolutely fantastic here. She’s doing her usual Meryl tricks here, with the accent and mannerism etc, but for some reason I was 100% sold, unlike in Julie and Julia. As much as I doubt that this version of Thatcher is the most accurate, there’s no denying that Streep went beyond the limited material she had, creating a fascinating and complex portrayal of a larger-than-life character. Her fieriness and headstrong attitude was just so brilliant, convincing the viewers that Thatcher was capable of countering the pervasive sexism in her job, fighting for her own principles and eventually causing her own downfall too. What was even better was how Streep was not afraid to make Thatcher unlikable, allowing us to understand how she became the “monster” that many considered her to be. The fierce presence, the fiery speeches, the ability to stand up for her own principles and make unpopular decisions, the abrasive personality – it’s all brilliantly handled, never feeling like it’s too much. I was completely taken by her acting here, especially in the “cowardice” scene where she started lashing out at everyone. I know this was a divisive scene, but I was really impressed at how Streep managed to portray Thatcher’s domineering presence but desperation to hold on to her power at the same time.

The older Thatcher scenes, no doubt, are probably the highlight of her performance. Streep portrays the deteriorating of Thatcher so realistically that it became really heartbreaking to watch, especially when you watch her desperately hold on to the memories of her past. There’s always that overwhelming guilt of alienating her family due to politics, even though it was so badly handled by the script (“and the rest of us can go to hell!” come on…). Her phone call to her son was fantastic, and you can really here the pain and disappointment in her voice as she tries to reconnect with him. The Jim Broadbent scenes are a bit stupid, in my opinion, and yet Streep never lets it sink her performance. Of course, it would have been much better if he wasn’t there and we can just leave it to Streep to handle the hallucinations by herself, but it’s still great nonetheless. It allows us to see the weak and frail side of Thatcher, and it just give Streep more opportunities to showcase her acting range.

Call me crazy, I was just highly impressed by Meryl Streep’s performance as Margaret Thatcher. Yes, the film is really not good, but it’s during instances like this that really show how tremendous acting can alleviate poor material. I’m not going to apologise here, I think it’s a deserved win. 5/5

Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful (1985)

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Geraldine Page received her eighth (!) Oscar nomination and her only win for playing Carrie Watts in The Trip to Bountiful.

It’s kinda strange that Geraldine Page is a bit forgotten today, unless you are a real cinema fanatic who is truly into appreciating acting and movies. Even though I have only watched three of her films prior to this, I am endlessly fascinated by her – her reputation as one of the greatest “method” actresses, her versatility, her contributions to the theatre, her brilliant, calculated acting style and her influence on so many of the greats today, including Meryl Streep. (I highly recommend this blog if you want to find out more about her). I know some people dislike her style, which admittedly is rather theatrical, but like the many others before me, I am taken by what a force she is on screen. If I was born earlier I would have killed to just watch her perform on stage. There’s something about watching a Geraldine Page performance that makes you feel as if you are going through a real acting masterclass – it’s like a pro telling you amateurs how to really act. Of course, I understand some people think that this can get into the way of fully appreciating her work (cause you want to see a character, not a teacher), but I have enjoyed everything of hers that I’ve seen, even the frequently criticized Summer and Smoke (1961). Page’s Oscar win is widely considered a proper sendoff for a very long career (she died a year after winning). I gather that she must have faced some real threat from Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple, who was also absolutely amazing, but at the end of the day, I guess it was still a relatively easy win (I don’t see Meryl as a threat, sorry).

The Trip to Bountiful is…a rather average film, I mean, I do enjoy simplistic and beautiful films but this one is just forgettable in my opinion. The supporting actors are okay, but none of them stand out and I don’t find the story that engaging. Actually, there isn’t much of story – It’s more than obvious to me that the story is a vehicle for great actressing since the main character is essentially the most interesting part of the film. Had a lesser actress taken on the role the whole thing would have turned into forgettable TV-movie fare, but thankfully, they had Geraldine Page to elevate it into something special.

I tried to imagine how actresses like Vanessa Redgrave or Jessica Tandy would have done with this role – I think they would have done amazingly as well, but it would have been such a different Carrie Watts. We would have seen a more vulnerable, soulful and poetic approach that may have been equally amazing as well (have not watched Cicely Tyson’s version). Nonetheless, right from the beginning of the film, we can tell that Geraldine Page was ready to take on this role and give it a 200%. Even though we see Carrie Watts being stuck with her horrible son and daughter-in-law, there’s just so much fire and power inside her that we instantly root for her. I think what Page succeeded in extremely well is making Watts such a likable and endearing character. Even though she is so “Geraldine” here with all those tics and mannerisms, it never becomes annoying. In fact, I like that she brought so much humour and heart to the part, like when she sneakily manipulates her daughter-in-law into leaving the house, or when she is hiding her pension check. You never find yourself irritated with Carrie’s headstrong attitude, or when she does stuff like asking whether she can use her pension check to pay for the bus ticket. Page successfully highlights that the hope of going back home is the very one thing that is keeping her alive and strong, and she makes it a goal that the audience instantly feels for.

Page makes use of the various opportunities to fully explore the character, and it is during these moments where you get to see some truly fantastic acting. Being a fan, I’m already all too familiar with these moments but it doesn’t make them any less impressive. The most famous scene would be the confession scene on the bus where she talks about how she never loved her husband. I know this sounds weird, but that part just got me so excited because you can sense that a breakdown scene is coming, which is essentially Page’s forte. But of course, outside of acting appreciating, there is no denying that Page was heartbreaking there. Watching all the horrible memories come back to her. like her children’s deaths and her father forcing her to break up with her lover, it all just spoke volumes about how much this character has gone through. And then there’s that famous train station scene where she breaks down begs the police officer to just let her visit her home – it’s as scenery-chewy and calculated as it gets, but it is so masterfully done at the same time.

It’s a simple character with only one objective of going home, but Page added so many layers, so much character, and so much fire but beauty at the same time. When she finally reaches her old, broken-down home, the happiness and peace in her eyes really said so much even though she had no lines. You can sense that Carrie doesn’t fear anything or anyone anymore because her greatest wish has been fulfilled – all summed up in that simple kiss that she gives her bitch of a daughter-in-law. Geraldine Page’s Carrie Watts is a proper farewell for a truly remarkable career, making her Oscar win truly deserved. 5/5.