No one is disputing her extraordinary virtuosity. The problem lies in the fact that her performances are the key element to her films. Do her films exist outside of her contribution? Is her performance enough to justify the existence of her films?
An interesting question that was once posed to me about Meryl is the fact that while she’s considered the greatest actress of her generation, unlike her male contemporaries, she hasn’t starred in a movie that’s widely considered a “masterpiece”.
Think about it – Pacino has The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon, De Niro has Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Godfather Part II, Hackman has The French Connection, Hoffman has The Graduate – just to name a few. And yet what does Meryl have? The Deer Hunter? Out of Africa? Probably the closest film that she’s been in that might be considered a classic is Manhattan and she was only a small part of that film.
This isn’t to say she isn’t an amazing actress. She certainly has had an extraordinarily versatile career. But yeah, her films are most notable for her performance and not because the film is anything exceptional. Having said that, unlike her contemporaries, who have become parodies of their former selves lately, she’s currently in some kind of renaissance with the great performances she’s given over the past ten years or so (Adaptation, Doubt, The Devil Wears Prada, etc.).
I refer you this article.
Savannah…I love her honesty. I still wish she was Jeanne Moreau.
First, to answer Howard’s initial question, yes, she is a great film actress. I’ve never been one to gush over her and say every performance she’s given is greater than anything, but in Sophie’s Choice, Ironweed, A Cry in the Dark, and Julie and Julia she is formidable and deserves her “greatness” moniker. In Angels in America, too. And even in some of the lighter fare – Defending Your Life. It’s Complicated , Postcards From the Edge, The Devil Wears Prada – she is more than simply competent. In a few of those, she carries the films.
Now, in addressing Santino’s and Savannah’s contributions … Wow, just wow. I’ve never thought of it and/or her films in this way. Sophie’s Choice really hasn’t aged well, nor do I think it belongs anywhere near, let alone on, the 100-Best list. The Deer Hunter … ??? … I could at least make a better argument for it, but still … “Masterpiece?” This is genuinely a thing that makes you go, “Hmm …”
I don’t know, but I can tell you this. If you go to the bank, and one of the tellers looks like Meryl Streep, do not tell her she looks like Meryl Streep. I learned this the hard way.
Yes I rented that movie about that prime minister just because i needed my dose of Meryl. I love her in Doubt
Having not seen Sophie’s Choice or Out of Africa, I think her only good performance was in Doubt. Mostly because she wasn’t begging for a god damn Oscar in that film…. She tries too hard, if she could play it natural like she kind of did in The Deer Hunter and Doubt then I would certainly call her a good actress. But it’s not my place to say, I’m no actor.
She was my least favorite part of Kramer vs Kramer, keeping that film from being one of my absolute favorites.
“she hasn’t starred in a movie that’s widely considered a “masterpiece”.”
i’ve thought about this many times. but The Deer Hunter is regarded as a masterpiece. it’s just unfortunate that her role is minor.
Having said that, she is excellent in it, and i think it’s because her performance was rather understated, so i agree with the poster above me.
She is a huge reason why Deer Hunter works for me. I wish she was in it more. Her reaction shots are moving at times. just the look on her face speaks volumes. It’s a beautifully sensitive performance
Streep is, of course, a multi-talented actress who can’t be blamed if few of her films really stand out. She always gives us a performance worth watching anyway, so why the beef? I’ve caught many of her roles, but still missing a few significant ones, like Kramer vs Kramer. Just saw her in Iron Lady (not my choice, but a family member’s choice) and she gives another bravado performance in a so-so film. She relishes inhabiting these character roles and can do an admirable job in them.
Jack Nicholson is another great actor who hasn’t been in too many great films, but even when slumming, he is worth a watch. Same with Shirley MacLaine or Michael Caine. Should these highly talented actors just wait for ‘good’ films to come along only or should they give us their best in any role given to them? Great films are rare, but so are great actors. Let’s celebrate Streep, even if not always celebrating her films.
^ Jack Nicholson? He starred in Chinatown, The Shining, and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. And not as popular, but I also love Reds, The Last Detail, and Five Easy Pieces. Also, I don’t worship it the way some people did (do?), but Easy Rider is a classic. And wouldn’t call it a masterpiece or anything, but I LOVE As Good As It Gets.
And I haven’t really seen many Shirley MacLaine films, but if nothing else she had The Apartment.
^Agree completely with Captain that Nicholson has too many ‘classic’ films to his credit – as mentioned. I withdraw my other candidates, too. Meryl, baby, you’re on your own. This is a tough crowd!
If you go to the bank, and one of the tellers looks like Meryl Streep, do not tell her she looks like Meryl Streep. I learned this the hard way.
^Ha! – I liked that, too.
@Sepesy – Good call on Postcards from the Edge. Great performance from both of the leads.
“Streep is, of course, a multi-talented actress who can’t be blamed if few of her films really stand out. "
I don’t know about this. I think it’s true that she is only doing roles that she is being offered but I do think the choices that she decides to make, that is to say, the projects she chooses to work on, should count for something. Of course it might’ve been more limiting as an actress thirty years ago to get meaty roles like her male counterparts were getting. But look at some of her female peers – Diane Keaton had The Godfather and Annie Hall (among others), Gena Rowlands had A Woman Under the Influence, Ellen Burstyn had The Exorcist, Jane Fonda had Klute (among others).
So I think a small responsibility has to go onto Streep for the roles she’s chosen to take. Especially more recently, she could work with pretty much any filmmaker out there and yet she’s making somewhat questionable choices with films like Mamma Mia and It’s Complicated (these decisions seem to be based not on the material so much as personal decisions to work with directors who are her friend). In the past ten years, I’d say the one risky role she took was in Adaptation, which not coincidentally is also one of the better films she’s been in recently.
Meryl is great actress, no question about it, but the reason she doesn’t have a lot of masterpieces in her resume is the fact that she is a woman and there is not much good roles for women in Hollywood,especially central roles.Most movies are made by and for men.A movies for Streep or any other woman that would be their Taxi Drivers,The Godfathers or Graduates would have to be made by women,but women in Hollywood usually make romantic comedies or silly dramas, and there is no way Hollywood could ever have someone like Pedro Almodovar.The only woman that won an Oscar for directing won it for war movie without female characters.So films about women are not respectable or bankable and that’s why they don’t make them.Also most men would not go to see female Taxi Driver no matter how good it is.Anyway Meryl is lucky to be able to work at all, especially for playing leads – most actresses her age play supporting roles (mostly moms or granmas). by the way I don’t know many men who actually like Meryl Streep. most of them find her irritating.I like her but honestly I’m getting tired of her and her Oscar-bait movies.
So I think a small responsibility has to go onto Streep for the roles she’s chosen to take. Especially more recently.
I agree, Santino. If you look at a couple of the latest projects she chose to do: Julie & Julia and Iron Lady, it is clear she wanted to do her version of the two women, Julia Childs and Margaret Thatcher. These roles prove she is a good impressionist – she’s got the voice, the manerisms, etc. However, are these in any way challenging roles – beyond their bio-pic qualities? Compare her films with someone older like Vanessa Redgrave or someone younger like Tilda Swinton (Streep was born roughly between these two fine actresses) and its easy to see that Redgrave and Swinton are taking on more challenging roles than Streep is now.
So, she seems to just be coasting or taking on vanity projects rather than extending herself. However, looking at her earlier career, and taking a film like The French Lieutenant’s Woman (which was a fine film to showcase Streep’s range), we can see what Streep was capable of doing at an earlier stage in her career. But the more recent choices now must rest on her own shoulders. Perhaps her best films from the last decade were Adaptation and The Hours, but not just because of her performance. Now, in her latest roles, she seems to want to BE the movie.
I completely agree with you Oxy that her performances in films like Julie & Julia and The Iron Lady were merely good impressions. And bringing up someone like Vanessa Redgrave (or Helen Mirren for that matter) is a good illustration of an actress who is still challenging herself with meaningful roles.
“But the more recent choices now must rest on her own shoulders. Perhaps her best films from the last decade were Adaptation and The Hours, but not just because of her performance. Now, in her latest roles, she seems to want to BE the movie.”
I think you’re right. Her best performances lately have been in roles where she is not the main focus (in addition to Adaptation and The Hours, I would include Angels in America in this group). However I will say that both Doubt and The Devil Wears Prada were entertaining films to watch (Doubt is obviously a much better film).
Santino – haven’t yet seen Angels in America, The Devil Wears Prada, or Doubt. There are a few of her earlier films mentioned in this thread I need to catch up on, too. I’ve just been dragged by some female family members (wife and sister-in-law) to her latest film biopics. So, they have now completely skewered my judgments relative to Ms. Streep’s films – ha!.
Definitely check out Angels in America. It not only proves Streep still has the goods, it proves that Pacino can still deliver when given good material. It’s a really moving film.
I do consider some of Meryl’s films noteworthy, even if you take her performance out of it. Reisz’ “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” is one. Does it really matter? All that matters is that she has put in a good performance, a memorable one, a technical one. This is what she is going to be remembered for. Her legacy of great, technical performances. Who cares if the films are not considered classics? I do not consider that to be a negative reflection on her. In the end, I’m sure she is pretty grateful about her contribution to films.
Regarding Shirley MacLaine. She’s always interesting to watch. Her contribution to cinema goes way beyond Wilder’s “The Apartment.” “Some Came Running” and “The Children’s Hour” are excellent performances. She was also terrific in Ashby’s “Being There” and “Madame Sousatzka,” a film I’ve always thought great, containing a performance from MacLaine that is not only noteworthy but top-form.
This makes me think of a slurry of actresses from the late 60’s and 70’s who really valued their craft but who are, unfortunately, scant in their appearances in films of late.
No. She’s like the Kirsten Stewart for women of a certain age.
Definitely sad that her contributions to truly great films are minimal, and that she does not really have a great defining film/role, unlike many lesser actresses. But that doesn’t invalidate her talent or her contributions to cinema.
For what it’s worth, I would say she has been in precisely one unequivocal masterpiece, and that would be Angels In America. It’s just unfortunate that it is really a television miniseries.
But that doesn’t matter. The Devil Wears Prada will outlive all her other films, mark my words.
I see no extraordinary virtuosity. None. Sorry.
No. She is not a great actress. By and large I find her work entirely adequate, of course, but all too often her work comes off as too poised and posed and perfect, there’s little if any of the real messiness of actual humanity in her work. There are occasional signs of life in MANHATTAN and THE HOURS and ANGELS IN AMERICA, but she’s wildly overrated — Streep is to Acting what Eastwood is to Directing.
To answer the question, well, she kept me interested in The Iron Lady, which is a hard thing to do with such when you have such a sour and poorly done biopic. I would say she’s at least an above average actress.