You could do worse in quarantine than spending four and a half hours with your spouse and Meryl Streep. But that’s what happened this weekend and, in a word, it was glorious.
No, I’m not just saying this because I’m a gay guy. I mean, of course that’s part of it. We gays like strong, insanely talented performers, especially women, who in real life speak out and don’t take crap from anyone.
But that’s not really THE reason.
It’s mostly because, well, with Meryl you know you’ll always be well taken care of, always in good hands. Quibble if you must with any one of her movies or performances (Note: For the record, I have ZERO quibbles) but that’s like saying you had a bad piece of chocolate.
Some brands might be better than others, but ultimately are any of them ever anything but delicious?
Which brings us to Netflix’s The Prom and HBO Max’s Let Them All Talk.
Here’s what to know. Both are now streaming, both feature HER in light and dark polar opposite characters that suck you instantly under her spell and, at just over two hours apiece, both enable you to avoid thinking about Covid-19 or quarantine or President #Loser even just once.
Isn’t that what the movies and movie acting are all about?
Yeah, well tell that to the two idiot NY Times film critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis who recently wrote a long list/article on the Times’ 25 Greatest Actors of the 21st century and very purposely left HER off it.
Forget what she did in Devil Wears Prada, The Iron Lady and even Julie and Julia. It’s Keanu Reeves who is the fourth great actor of the 2000s for what he does in all those John Wick movies because the way he embodies this slightly ridiculous action hero…is just beautiful to watch.
But I digress, and no, I’m not kidding. They actually DID write that.
This is what happens when you are so universally lauded for your artistic abilities decade after decade. Some credentialed naysayer, and often more than one, will eventually come around and consider you less than just because THEY can.
This is pretty much what goes on in The Prom, but with a lot more at stake than a list. It’s loosely based on the true story of a lesbian high school student and her girlfriend who were told by the small-minded powers in their town that they were unwelcome at prom.
Is the exclusion of Streep from that dumb list the same thing as the hurtful homophobia we gay people all often endure at various points in childhood at the hands of those in power?
No, it’s a METAPHOR. And yet, when you think about it, it’s not exactly dissimilar. It’s just that when you’re an educated adult and your life is good, it hurts a lot less.
Which doesn’t mean it’s fair, or that it doesn’t hurt at all.
Marginalization is ALWAYS meant to hurt on some level, especially when it’s made publicly and the target is that big.
Interestingly, Streep plays a two-time Tony winner in The Prom whose awful Broadway show has closed after horrible reviews and, in a fit of total self-absorption, travels to middle-America with some theatre folk to help our gay heroine simply to garner HERSELF great press and the chance at a third Tony award.
It’s a film musical based on a Broadway musical and it’s total cotton candy, the kind that you could easily be sick from after more than a few helpings. But anchored by Streep (Note: Or do we keep calling her Meryl?) the whole thing manages to work, and often work really well.
Her performance is not a cartoon but an aptly etched musical type with a soul. She’s ridiculous and over-the-top but with some vestiges of humanity that manage to peek through as she throws her endless colorful coats around in any number of songs or slams her Tony awards down on a hotel counter as the ultimate power play.
Who else but SHE could make us believe that? Not many. I venture to say, not even Keanu.
And yet in Let Them All Talk there she is again as a literate, whispery Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist in stylish oversized glasses, hair tastefully pinned back, who invites two female college chums she hasn’t seen in over 30 years to sail with her on a luxury boat to see her accept yet another literary award.
This is a woman who saves it for the page vs. the stage and exhibits such control that she barely seems to exist to the outside world, other than on or through the pages she writes.
Still, she’s a huge presence, oppressive really, to almost everyone around her, especially those she claims to love. That anyone tolerates her at all is a testament to just how much any of we humans are capable of enduring when we fear speaking up what we truly feel.
Or perhaps it’s just a testament to age.
For in Let Them All Talk, SHE, Dianne Wiest and Candice Bergen play three woman in their seventies whose behavior and selves are anything but caricature. We might not know them thoroughly or the exact details of the events in the past that drove them apart but we realize enough to get how real the pained humor between them is. And how much worse what’s NOT being said would be.
It’s an enigmatic story and film whose power isn’t the blow by blow of what happened but more about our reactions in the present to the ways we continue to behave.
Streep/Meryl or whomever you imagine her to be renders an entirely different kind of famous artist than who she is in real life or what she evoked in The Prom. It’s a hopelessly internal type who has a whole lot to say about ART and it’s lasting effect on us as people and if she wasn’t such a turn-off perhaps more than one or two people in her life would actually be listening.
But of course WE do listen because by the end of the journey we realize this gal was, indeed, human. And that everything we didn’t want to believe that came out of her mouth made a whole lot of existential sense – actually too much sense.
I can only thing of one actor in the 21st century who does this so consistently every time they’re at bat regardless of what list anyone chooses to put them on.
And it’s not Keanu Reeves.