Oh, Meryl!

Three films starring the mighty Meryl Streep, watched over the course of last weekend:-

Dark Matter (2007)

This film is based on the Iowa University shootings of 1991. Chinese student Ye Lui is all sorts of a genius, so much so that he is able to challenge the work of his mentor theoretical physicist Professor Reiser (Aidan Quinn). This does not go down well with said mentor, who is so affronted by his protégé’s show of independent thinking that he uses his influence to sabotage the boy’s academic future. Faced with disgrace, Ye Lui turns up with a gun and shoots the people he regards as responsible, and then himself.

I have mixed feelings about all this. There’s a subtext of prejudice, with Reiser making a racist remark and a blonde waitress rejecting Ye Lui as boyfriend material, albeit this latter may simply be down to the fact that she has the sense to realise that genius doesn’t mix well with somebody who doesn’t know the difference between cosmology and cosmetology, and never mind how these things pan out in Big Bang Theory. As a case study of somebody getting broken by ‘the system’ it works very well, and with the proliferation of campus shootings this is something we need to understand. My problem however is that the film is a distortion of the real life events on which it was based – Ye Lui it appears wasn’t quite such a nice guy as he is made out to be here, and ‘the system’ didn’t collude in crushing him down. As for Meryl, her role is entirely negligible. She plays Joanna, a woman with too much time on her hands and too much money in her bank account, who takes on the role of patron of the arts, specialising in taking Chinese students under her wing. The role doesn’t involve much more than looking sweetly vapid and mouthing comforting platitudes. It appears to be there so that there’s a sympathetic white person for Ye Lui to bond with and, probably, to get a star name on the cast list. Not a highlight in the actress’ career, I’d imagine.

It’s Complicated (2009)

Meryl is Jane Adler, a successful restaurant owner and cook, who is finally getting over the desertion of husband Jake ten years after he left her for a younger model. Only Jake now comes back into her life, and they end up sleeping together. Will she get back together again, and delight their children, or does new guy on the scene, architect Adam who is designing the new extension to Jane’s home, have the key to her heart and future happiness?

As before, I have mixed feelings. There are some very funny moments here, with the webcam scene a particular delight, and overall it’s an eminently watchable romcom, but again I have a problem. I liked Jane and I liked Adam, but I absolutely detested Jake. As played by Alec Baldwin, he’s a manipulative arsewipe who makes everything about himself (he only wants to get back with Jane because his new crib isn’t as comfy as it was supposed to be) and isn’t above using their children as pawns in getting his own way. I hated the guy. Okay, the writers made Jake this way and I’m probably not meant to like him, but all the same that somebody as with it and on the ball as Jane would entertain taking back this douche for a second makes me respect her less. It appears I am doomed to overthink romcoms, on which basis I should probably keep Jennifer Aniston out of my life.

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Based on the Richard Condon novel and a remake of the 1962 Sinatra vehicle, this film has a platoon of American GIs going missing in Iraq for two days. When they return the survivors have vivid memories of being saved by their comrade Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) and praise him to the sky. Awarded the Medal of Honour, Shaw goes into politics, with his ambitious mother Eleanor (Meryl) pushing him into a bid for the presidency. But Shaw’s old commanding officer, Major Marco (Denzel Washington in the Sinatra role), is having nightmares that hint at something terrible taking place in Iraq and suggest that Shaw may not be the hero he is thought to be by everyone else. With the odds stacked against him, Marco tries to get to the bottom of things.

A dirge for our political system and comment on the scope for manipulation of public opinion, with brainwashing of an individual standing as a symbol for that of the masses, this is an intriguing and very effective film. I’m not sure that I buy into the central premise, but as a study of paranoia seguing into fact it works very well. Mostly it’s faithful to the 1962 original, with Iraq for Korea and corporate power for communist conspirators, and where it does change, as in making Shaw a potential presidential candidate instead of a cat’s paw assassin, it only reinforces the story. Meryl is chilling in her ruthlessness as the mother from hell, one who wants what’s best for her boy and what’s best for America. I don’t know that I’ll watch this again any time soon, but I’ll keep some fond memories of it, in the main because it confirms all my suspicions about the corporate and political elite.

So, what Meryl movies do the rest of you like? Personally, I have a soft spot for The French Lieutenant’s Woman. And why has she never done a full-fledged horror movie (from memory, the nearest she’s got is comedy Death Becomes Her)? I think she would have shone in a Roger Corman adaptation of Poe, playing opposite Vincent Price.

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2 Responses to Oh, Meryl!

  1. My favorite Meryl Streep movie is probably one of her least well-known: Falling in Love (I actually had to IMDB to remind myself of the movie’s title.) She and Robert DeNiro, both married to others, start an affair. It came out 6 years after The Deer Hunter, where she and DeNiro also have an attraction. And she did appear in at least one horror film Pete (or at least a thriller): The River Wild with Kevin Bacon, which was a Deliverance variant. And now, actually, I’m also remembering the great Albert Brooks movie, Defending Your Life, where she co-starred opposite Brooks. Not only a great actress, but prolific!

    • petertennant says:

      Hi Rob. Sorry to have missed not replying to this earlier. To my amazement the only one of those films I can recall seeing is “The River Wild”, though I reckon it’s more thriller than horror. I really must get my hands on a copy of “The Deer Hunter” – feels almost sacrilegious to have missed that one.

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