Do you want to make a compelling case for the importance of postgraduate education? Meryl Streep earned her MFA from Yale in 1975 at the age of 26 (she funded her way via school by waitressing and typing) and then went on to star on Broadway in New York City. She was nominated for a Tony Award less than a year later. Within two years, she had landed her first leading role in a feature film. Within three years, she had won an Academy Award. She appears to have gotten her money’s worth at Yale.
With the release of both The Prom and Let Them All Talk this weekend, Streep will have starred in more than 50 films, spanning nearly every genre and starring some of the world’s best actors and filmmakers. Because we can say without a doubt — and we’ve seen them all — that she is incapable of delivering a bad performance. Even when she’s sleepwalking, Meryl Streep is enthralling to watch because she always finds something to like in even the most thankless parts. And she’s so good that she makes her risks appear to be the most straightforward: You know it isn’t easy, yet it can appear that way.
Because of all the praise she receives for her dramatic work, Streep’s comedic work is overlooked. Movie’s Complicated is standard Nancy Meyers fodder, but it gave Streep the opportunity to show off her mature, humorous s*x appeal as a divorced bakery owner caught between a nice-guy architect (Steve Martin) and her remarried spouse (Alec Baldwin). It’s Complicated is a nice exception to the well-deserved criticism that Hollywood does not create characters for women “of a certain age,” and Streep navigates Meyers’ effervescent storylines with enough grace and warmth to make her character’s traversal of this romantic triangle a bubbly joy.
Julie And Julia
On the surface, Julie & Julia appeared to be just another Streep trick, with the famed chameleon adopting the accent and demeanor of beloved celebrity chef Julia Child. But, while Streep captures Child’s endearing, slightly unsteady character, she goes far deeper, uncovering the anguish in a quiet revolutionary who overcame a great deal of misogyny in both her professional and personal life for daring to be a working woman in the 1950s. Streep’s emotional performance was a reminder of how easy it is to take what she does for granted, especially when compared to the dismal “Julie” half of filmmaker Nora Ephron’s comedy-drama, in which the usually excellent Amy Adams is forced to play a mopey modern gal.
The Devil Wears Prada
The Devil Wears Prada, with Meryl Streep at the height of her scene-stealing, grande dame abilities, rolls her eyes at your belief that good acting is about nuance and restraint. Miranda Priestly is a delight to watch, with her sadistic delight in tormenting her new personal assistant, meek little Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway). Miranda is a holy menace and a consistent hoot, with her snow-white hair, gorgeous dresses, and blasé, judgemental attitude — we laugh even before she opens her mouth because we can tell how dissatisfied she is with everyone around her. Miranda was the chick-flick equivalent of a comic-book supervillain, with her coldly disdainful tone and scary smarts. The Devil Wears Prada was released on the same weekend as Superman Returns in the summer of 2006. Streep, in retrospect, was a greater Lex Luthor than Kevin Spacey.
So, at the age of 33, this was the Streep performance that made everyone understand we were dealing with an all-timer. Streep plays every role in this film. She’s sad, she’s seductive, she’s defeated, she’s destroyed, and she’s tenacious. (She even goes all out with her accent.) The story of Stingo (Peter MacNicol) writing his novel is more of a narrative trick than a compelling story; the film is primarily a Meryl Streep vehicle. She actually outperforms the story she’s in: Her performance has a raw strength about it that is nearly too much to bear at times. Also, be aware that you will cry. (A Surgeon General’s warning should accompany the scene from the title.) Streep has demonstrated her versatility throughout her career.
Defending Your Life
In another universe, Streep could have played Julia Roberts in this funny, classic Albert Brooks comedy about an everlasting wait station where you are judged after death based on the life you led. In contrast to Brooks’ coward Daniel Miller, she’s irresistibly charming as Julia, a lady who was a saint on Earth. Their romance is believable and delightfully mature: here are two good-hearted individuals who embrace each other like grown-ups, aware of the dangers, wary but yet smitten. And Meryl Streep is incredible. She’s witty, personable, and down to earth. (We adore how much she enjoys the eateries in Judgment City.) This is Meryl Streep at the height of her acting career. We’re still smitten by her.