January 3, 2010

Meryl Streep at 60

At age 60, Meryl Streep has become the most commercially consistent actress in Hollywood. Having started out largely as a screen tragedian, Streep appears to be having a blast these days making movies like Mama Mia and the Devil Wears Prada. She'll get her 16th Oscar nomination for Julie and Julia for her ridiculously entertaining Dan Ackroyd-ish impersonation of chef/giantess Julia Child.

In Julie and Julia, the usually amusing Amy Adam gets stuck with the disastrous role of a contemporary ninny of a blogger -- Which genius decided blogging was a cinematic career? -- whose boring modern life only serves to annoyingly keep Streep off-screen for half the movie. In general, you don't want to take a role playing a contemporary character in a film with extensive flashbacks to pre-1960s people -- modern characters are too casual to make the kind of imposing impression that old time characters can make. But you especially don't want to play opposite Meryl Streep as Julia Child.

Movie stars tend to emerge from tumultuous upbringings. (For example, I don't know how many current stars spent a couple of years living in hippie communes as children.) Streep, in contrast, has always seemed like the supremely professional product of a proper upbringing. This perhaps made her less sympathetic when she was young in a sort of Jack Nicklaus-Peyton Manning way, but she's enjoying the benefits of an improbably long career today.

Streep by the numbers:

15 Oscar nominations (and counting)
4 children
1 husband
0 rehabs

(Here's Woody Allen publicly lecturing Scarlett Johansson a couple of years ago on how she ought to imitate Meryl Streep's life, not Lindsay Lohan's.)

Streep might even get a 17th Oscar nomination for her middle aged lady fantasy movie "It's Complicated," a kind of Philadelphia Story "comedy of remarriage" for women of a certain age.

Depression-era movies about rich people, like Philadelphia Story, are known as "white telephone movies" because only millionaires could finagle a non-black telephone out of the Bell monopoly back then. Perhaps the contemporary equivalents made by Nancy Meyer (writer director of the aptly named What Women Want with Mel Gibson) could be called Viking range movies because they are heavy on high-end kitchen appliance porn.

The last 60ish leading lady to be on top of the box office was, I'm guessing, 250-pound Marie Dressler, who was born during the Johnson Administration (the Andrew Johnson Administration). Most very early talkies are close to unwatchable, so Dressler is remembered today mostly for 20 seconds with Jean Harlow in 1933's Dinner at Eight.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

"Giantess"? Sounds like something out of a Tolkien novel. I've never heard attractive 6'+ women (Elle Macpherson, Michelle Wie, Maria Sharapova) referred to like that.

Anonymous said...

Meryl Streep herself wrote a famous essay on her accomplishments:


Conrad Bibby said...

She's a ham. It seems the point of her performances is to make us admire her acting rather than make us forget we are watching someone acting.

Anonymous said...

"Which genius decided blogging was a cinematic career?"

My guess is Nora Ephron had a big hit with "You've Got Mail" when email was sort of novel, and was looking to repeat it with the latest novel electronic communication medium.

Kylie said...

Yes, Streep's left her dignity behind and is enjoying great success galumphing onscreen, doing splits, following in Ackroyd's steps, etc.

She now specializes in broad comedy of the kind that appeals to, well, broads. Her recent appearance as a formidably plain nun in the very serious Doubt wasn't enough make that a success. Women of her age don't care to be reminded that compared to the young, they are indeed, if not formidably plain, lacking in youthful attractiveness. Much better to be a 60-something spry enough to do the splits and alluring enough to be credible as having a string of former lovers or else taking her ex-husband as her new lover.

Streep has always excelled at mastering accents and holding up a mirror to women in which they can see the reflection of themselves they currently most want to see. She is now reassuring women of a certain age that they can still be--or be seen as--vibrant and reassuring young women that old age isn't the horror of sagging flesh and diminished attractiveness that they fear.

I watched some Dressler movies last fall. The silents and talkies were both virtually unwatchable--yet Dressler herself was not. She played to the camera, she mugged and hammed, she showed all the grace of King Kong yet she had true screen presence. I simply couldn't take my eyes off her. Visiting her message board later, I found I wasn't the only one who felt that way. Whatever "it" is, she had it in spades. I was so impressed that I gave my bulldog, Kylie, "Marie" for a middle name.

Jim O said...

Streep is truly unique. Despite that awesome track record, she's never become a hollywood power. She's never been the driving force behind a project (cf., Streisand). At sixty, she's still just an actress for hire. The best actress ever, to be sure, but to my knowledge, she's never aspired to write, direct or produce anythiing for the stage or screen. I hear she had to literally beg to get the role in Sophie's Choice.

Also, she doesn't use her celebrity to shove her views on politics and society down our throats, for which she deserves our gratitute.

Anonymous said...

Given that Hollywood routinely copies stuff from Hong Kong movies, Japanese movies and Chinese movies (eg, the Departed was scene-for-scene and even dialog wise copied from Infernal Affairs-无间道, and Mr & Ms Smith took scenes from Chow Yun-fat movies as did the Die Hard series, and then there is the Magnificent Seven), I suspect that the Chinese did it first.

Udolpho.com said...

I hated Julie and Julia, not just for the terrible Amy Adams parts (this actress wore thin by the middle of Doubt), but because Julia Child was reduced to a caricature. Watch the old episodes of her series, she carries herself with 100 times more dignity than Streep or the writers gave the character. A real patrician sensibility, plus a winning democratization of cooking. She despised the modern day food purists and Cooking Network snobs, and regarded the anti-GM types as crackpots. (She also had very un-PC attitudes about fags that don't make it into the movie despite their relevance to a major subplot.)

But that said, Streep is still the rare actress who can handle a meaty role without relying on her tits or her big beautiful eyes to carry her. She needs to do fewer Mamma Mia's and more Prada's. The only younger actress that currently impresses me is Jennifer Garner, who is currently stuck making one rom-com after another.

Anonymous said...

Christy Brinkley turns 56 in a month. We're going to have to recalibrate babeness.

John Seiler said...

Katharine Hepburn topped the box office with "On Golden Pond" in early 1982, at age 74. She won the Oscar for best actress.

Of course, she co-starred with Henry Fonda (Oscar winner for best actor) and Jane Fonda (nominated for supporting actress).

Anonymous said...

I was similarly frustrated by the Julie and Julia structure, which managed the staggering feat of making the wonderful Amy Adams unlikable while glossing over a lot of interesting stuff from Julia Child's amazing life. I wanted to see her with the OSS in China, and the beginnings of her TV show, and so forth. Instead we got Julie obsessing over how many hits her blog was getting.

La Rue said...

It's good she's having fun and making lots of bucks. I don't like her and haven't seen most of her recent movies but she was splendid in Devil Wears Prada. She is, at heart, a character actress and shouldn't take herself soooooo seriously as she did in the 80s as an Hollywood Art Film diva with all those foreign accent roles. Back then, she was more an accentress than an actress.

DeNiro, on the other hand, used to be much better in serious roles long ago--with the exception of Midnight Run, a fabulous movie. But then, his serious roles tended to be less pompous and pretentious than Streep's, especially with all those bogus accents. One advantage DeNiro had in serious roles was having both an actor's focus and instinct, whereas Streep only had the focus. Even when she was 'good', her effort looked strained and obvious.

Unknown said...

Yep, Streep is great. You wrote an entry about her a year and a half ago that generated one of the funniest (strangest) comments ever on this blog:


The commenter Maximilian said:

"She bears a heavy load of culpability for misleading millions of women. As the leading actress of a certain time period, she had enormous influence on women who looked to her to see how they should look and behave. She gave them the false impression that a woman can be successful despite being unattractive to men. She portrayed a butch stereotype that could only have led to disastrous lives for the women who imitated her but who lacked her natural gifts and her wealth."

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed "It's Complicated" a lot, while being cognizant of the female fantasy aspect. Part of the genesis of this movie seems to be Meyers separation from her husband and writing partner Charles Shyer. (They wrote "Private Benjamin" together, which was a huge hit in 1980 - and a feminist fantasy.)

Anonymous said...

As a voice actress, Meryl Streep can still play young! Check out "Fantastic Mr. Fox"

Anonymous said...

OT completely: maybe China won't need a big military so long as they have hackers...

China will soon have the power to switch off the lights in the West

Anonymous said...

A movie featuring Meryl Streep typically correlates with high quality. Whether that's due to her inate ability, hard work, craftmanship or Presbyterian upbringing* followed by an all-girl college education* is something worth contemplating. Especially when her work and longevity is contrasted with other - some younger/some older - actresses whose stars burned just as brightly, but not nearly as consistantly (reliably) over the long run.

*per Wikipedia

Jokah Macpherson said...

Meryl Streep is proof that women can be successful actresses even when they are no longer young and sexy. They just have to be able to portray something besides young, sexy characters.

Bruce Banned said...

OT: Taki drops the K-bomb*.

*Kevin MacDonald

Steve Sailer said...

"Instead we got Julie obsessing over how many hits her blog was getting."

You mean the screenplay I'm writing about my Rocky-like triumph in raising my hit count about 20% in 2009 isn't going to be a blockbuster?

Whiskey said...

Streep's movies don't seem high quality, and she looks embarrassing: Mama Mia? A woman of sixty looking/acting like a teen-ager?


A feminist fantasy, but one as silly (and probably destructive) as the nerdy one of the ass-kicking girl falling for the nerd (which Steve took apart at length).

Moreover, praising Streep for merely failing to self-destruct is a low bar. She played Child as a buffoon, and Child was hardly that. As a comic actor she's far too "busy" instead of calm-quiet-reactive like Vince Vaughan. I've never seen Streep where the overacting is not dialed up to 11.

cedarview ln said...

"Cooking Network snobs"

Snobs? You mean slobs.

american streeper said...

I guess you mean American actresses. It's not that rare in Great Britain. I never heard of Judy Dench, for example, before she was pushing 60, and she's done some of her best work since then. Like Streep she had a long and happy marriage until actor/comedian husband Michael Williams died about 9 yrs. ago. Maybe it's because acting in America has been so defined (John Wilkes Booth notwithstanding) by the 20th century and Hollywood and the big, big screen even when the screen is no longer that big. When the main gal's face is ten feet high, you want it flawless. You even prefer the men actors to be youthful and handsome. European acting was honed on stages and for many centuries, lit by candles.

I find I like Streep way more than when she was playing young beauties, partly because she's better in tongue-in-cheek, comedic roles. She's one of those rare people who improves visually as she ages. It's common for talent to increase with age, but to be more pleasing visually is a rare talent indeed.

cedarview ln said...

"the Departed was scene-for-scene and even dialog wise copied from Infernal Affairs"

I WISH as "Internal Affairs"--at least the first installation--was far superior than Scorsese's clunker.

cedarview ln said...

"I hear she had to literally beg to get the role in Sophie's Choice."

Sophie's Choice was one of the most pompous and tasteless Serious films ever made by Hollywood. And Streep's performance baloney passing itself as filet mignon.
It's supposed to be GREAT because it touches on the Holocaust, a crazy genius, and double suicide. Oh boo hoo.

"Also, she doesn't use her celebrity to shove her views on politics and society down our throats, for which she deserves our gratitute."

Actually, her funniest role was Alarm over Alar. "WHAT ARRRRREE WE DOIIIIIIIG TO OUUUUR CHILDREN???!!!!" Gimme a break, lady.

Anonymous said...

If Meryl Streep really wants to top herself in the ACTING category, she oughta play a big fat black lady. But, I think Tracy Ullmann beat her to it.

dearieme said...

My wife imitates La Streep rather amusingly. Please may she have an Oscar?

Anonymous said...

Mr & Ms Smith took scenes from Chow Yun-fat movies

The theme music from Mr & Mrs Smith is "taken" from the second movement of a famous 19th Century symphony.

a long and happy marriage until actor/comedian husband Michael Williams died about 9 yrs. ago

Michael Williams put together an ensemble cast which did a really nice reading of Shakespeare's sonnets.

[Where "nice" reading is not to be confused with "nice" poetry.]

Anonymous said...

You guys do realize that Julia Childs was almost certainly a Republican, right?

[And probably a rather conservative one at that.]

Lost Pilgrim said...

Child a Republican? But, in the movie she was portrayed as being subject to the McCarthy witch hunts. The movie wouldn't lie to us.

The part I loved was when she found out Julia was not thrilled with her blog. Her husband convinced her that the 'real' Julia the one in her head would have loved her blog. Can you get anymore tenuous and ephemeral? The people that matter are the ones in her head. Why doesn't she just imagine what it would be like to cook the food? Maybe she could imagine that she has a good relationship with her mom and a good marriage while she's at it.

Jim O said...

cederford In (your 3rd comment):

Well. It's matter of opinion whether her performance in SC was miserable or not. I liked it and I think she's a great actress. I thought the point I was making, though, was her lack of behind-the-scenes power in Hollywood. I'll just have to write more clearly in the future.

As for her alar crusade: maybe I should have repeated the cf. Steisand note, just to address that clarity issue, supra. She wasn't trying to influence a Presidential election. Alar was a "let's all of us Moms get together" thing. I'm neutral on Alar, so, like most people, I barely noticed. I don't recall any film of her demonstating the use of an anti-aircraft gun in Hanoi,for example. That I noticed.

It is amazing how even the most benign comments on this blog can set some people off.

Mitch said...

Someone has already mentioned Kate Hepburn, but the thoroughness with which her record stomps Streep's at this point should be spelled out.

Kate got back to back Oscars at 60 and 61, and her last one at 74. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, the first of those two, was the #3 box office hit of the year--beating out Bonnie and Clyde, no small feat. On Golden Pond was also #3 for the year, beating out Arthur and Stripes. As for The Lion in Winter, it was much harder to get an Oscar nomination for a little film back in those days, so while I don't know much about box office, I suspect its $10 million gross wasn't that bad, particularly given the subject matter.

I love Streep, and I'm glad she's having fun doing popular movies. I also love Marie Dressler. But come on, leaving Kate Hepburn out of actresses with outstanding post-60s careers is a big miss.

Ray Sawhill said...

I'm not a big Streep fan myself, but that's a cool and smart piece. Two things.

1) She appears to have a sense of humor, or at least she likes doing comedy. Before she became a somber, award-winning screen actress, she was known in NYC as a stage actress. And -- here's the surprise -- as a funny lady. Pratfalls, jokes, etc. Mid-career, she made some real efforts to change her image -- I thought she was brilliant in the black comedy "Death Becomes Her." But the films didn't pan out commercially.

2. My wife once spent a week with Julia Child, and wrote it up for Interview magazine. They even cooked together. I'm married to a woman who once cooked with Julia Child. If you don't think that makes me feel special ...


OhioStater said...

Who needs actresses? Avatar just hit $1 billion box office and I have no idea what the leading lady looks like!

Anonymous said...

I understand Streep was originally slated to play Lillian in Union City , which went to rising pop star Deborah Harry, who was being touted as a sure future film star. Her few mainstream film forays proved box office poison and she has since worked a fair amount in arthouse films, but never any financial successes. Would Union City have been a brreakout monster if Streep had done it? (Harry could have done the Pat Benatar part as easily, though Benatar-who hasn't acted since-did do a pretty good job.)

Nanonymous said...

Onion: Meryl Streep: "Great actress, okay movies."

LOL. Right off the bat: Adaptation and Out of Africa. And yes, she was great in Sophie's Choice and Doubt. I am not big fan of Manhattan but it is undeniably a classic movie.

Steve Sailer said...

"leaving Kate Hepburn out of actresses with outstanding post-60s careers is a big miss."


What did you think of Amy Adams playing Cate Blanchett playing Kate Hepburn playing Amelia Earhart in Night at the Museum II?

Steve Sailer said...

The Alar thing was an outgrowth of Streep having four children.

Streep by the numbers:

15 Oscar nominations (and counting)
4 kids
1 husband
0 rehabs

Anonymous said...

She's one of those rare people who improves visually as she ages.

Ive just seen Joely Richardson in the BBC version of Day of the Triffids.

She will be 45 any day now. Before this I had always regarded her as just, well...bland. But suddenly, looking a little aged and lined, she has taken on a hottness she never had before.

Can't explain it!

Bob said...

Alar causes cancer and she helped get it banned from use on food, why is this supposed to count against her?

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

Streep also has a knack for picking her co-stars wisely. So long as she keeps starring in movies alongside actresses like Amy Adams and Amanda Seyfried, she will keep attracting this red-blooded American male's moviegoing dollar.

Scarlett Johansson? Feh. She lost me when she announced she gets HIV tested every six months - though I guess maybe my chances of getting lucky went up.

James Watson is Right!!! said...

"You mean the screenplay I'm writing about my Rocky-like triumph in raising my hit count about 20% in 2009 isn't going to be a blockbuster?"

No, the movie would be about how you have been resiting the egalitarian elite with your weblog. The movie will feature you valiantly typing and editing each post, while the David Bowie song "Rebel Rebel" is playing in the background. Jon Hamm from Mad Men will play you in the movie. It will be mega blockbuster. There will also be scenes of you checking your comments which will involve lengthy flashbacks of the commenters making their comments. One scene will feature Truth, played by Forest Whitker, in his apartment naked with only his black cap on, laughing about how he will defeat all white racists with his superior black intellect. The Amadeous theme will play in the background of the Truth scenes. This movie will be awesome.

Steve Sailer said...

Although, to be precise, Marie Dressler was widely considered to be THE #1 box office star during the nadir of the Depression, while Katharine Hepburn was popular in her 60s, but not #1. You could currently make a case that Streep is #1 among actresses in commercial appeal, although I'm not sure I'd buy it. But you could at least make a plausible argument.

Lugash said...

I am Lugash.

Lugash says that in addition to the Crypto-Counter Steve-O-Sphere there is the Shadow Steve-O-Sphere.

Fans of Steve, like Lugash, prowl the Shadow at work. We hunt for safe, politically correct blogs that Steve has posted on to get our fix.

I am Lugash.

Alticor said...

Actually, the various phone companies offered a selection of colors of phones from the beginning, but the style was pretty plebian. What the wealthy could do was supply their own phone and get away with it-the rules said you had to use their phone and pay a rental on it every month. Highrises provided their own PBX systems and tenants could put whatever phone they wanted on it: often these were the phony "French" phones, which were mostly made domestically for the old Cortlandt Street "Radio Row" dealers who were where the World Trade Center was until 9/11.

Ma Bell was really a cheap and mean mother back in the day, though.

James Watson is Right!!! said...

"Fans of Steve, like Lugash, prowl the Shadow at work. We hunt for safe, politically correct blogs that Steve has posted on to get our fix."

Where Lugash, where. Steve Sailer is crack for people like me.

Truth said...

"A feminist fantasy, but one as silly (and probably destructive) as the nerdy one of the ass-kicking girl falling for the nerd (which Steve took apart at length)."

Hey Steve-O, that's a compliment from Whiskey...I think.

Whiskey said...

Streep is one of the few that have not botoxed their faces into a frozen mask. Which is why she is more "expressive" and other actresses past 35 are jokes.

This makes Streep seem better than she is. Because, say Nicole Kidman has a frozen face and is emotionally expressive as a mannequin.

James Watson is Right!!! said...

In the Steve Sailer movie. Whiskey will be played by Steve Buscemi, who will wear leather for the role.

Anonymous said...

A feminist fantasy, but one as silly (and probably destructive) as the nerdy one of the ass-kicking girl falling for the nerd (which Steve took apart at length).

Well, I'm somewhat nerdy and introverted, and my girlfriend is assertive and not afraid of confrontation, so maybe it's not just a myth. Human relationships are more complex and varied than "Girls like jerks".

She will be 45 any day now. Before this I had always regarded her as just, well...bland. But suddenly, looking a little aged and lined, she has taken on a hottness she never had before.

Careful, some Roissyite who thinks that all women over 30 should hide their shamefully aged faces might hear you.

Anonymous said...

Facial expression is what-above all else-the great actresses of the golden age had and today's don't. Even the not so great actresses-Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner-had an array of expressiveness you don't see today.

And they had curves. Ava was probably an octoroon, which means she had a big Mariah Carey rear end, but she had shape to every limb in every direction. And Monroe was the perfect Coke bottle in profile.

And they all knew how to show off what they had-I don't mean by undressing, I mean by moving in a way to make their figures evident. Even TV stars with modest recurrent roles-Stella Stevens, Barbara Eden, even the godawful Majel Barrett-knew how to move.

That's gone.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

......(They wrote "Private Benjamin" together, which was a huge hit in 1980 - and a feminist fantasy.)"

When you say "feminist", the "fantasy" part is redundant. It's implied.

Anonymous said...

Streep always came across as a cold-hearted biatch with tits colder than a wiatch's.

Dahlia said...

Steve is mostly complimenting Streep on her personal life and notices how this affects her professional life; it's not a treatise on her acting ability.

He gets to see the other side of Hollywood that most of us don't see, so if he says Streep stands out in class amongst the Hollywood set, I'll take his word on it. Steve has written before on Streep as well as the disappointment of seeing lovely, older actresses slumming and ugly in person. I'd like to see a more in-depth Sailer take on Hollywood and how Streep is and why.

BTW, thanks for the Woody Allen link. That made my day! I detest Johannson and it was especially rich to see her get a comeuppance from, of all people, Woody Allen!!

G said...

Helen Mirren has also had a great career into her 60s. Her portrayals of the two Elizabeths, as well as her work on Prime Suspect, was excellent. And she looks fantastic.

British actresses in general seem far less likely to get Botox/surgery, so they don't run into the frozen face Nicole Kidman problem.

Anonymous said...

From a cursory Web search, "white telephone movies" is a term applying to prewar Italian cinema, not to Hollywood films.