Just watched two Meryl Streep films in a row, and while her roles could not have been more different (although a scene in the latter slyly referenced Ms. Streep’s work in the former), my experiences had some similarities. However, before I get all tongue twisted…
“Julie & Julia” (also starring Amy Adams and Stanley Tucci) was a lovingly served, albeit occasionally unnecessarily garnished, feast. Streep’s performance was exquisite, and will – I have no doubt – garner her yet another Oscar nom. She (if you’ll forgive the pun) chewed the scenery with thrilling aplomb. Tucci, as her adoring husband, was solid in his support in the way only a great and confident actor can be. Adams, with perhaps the more subtly brittle and thereby complex role, had the unenviable task of running a race against the far more entertaining flashback scenes involving Streep. She didn’t have a chance, but she ran it to the end nevertheless, which deserves some kudos.
Ultimately, this was one of those films that delivers a “tour de force” performance, and a middling script. What may have worked on the page was not meant to be translated to the screen so unimaginatively. Creative? Yes. Imaginative? No. There IS a difference.
Being a bit of a gourmand (translation: “I love my food!”), I found myself enjoying certain scenes that may not have been so readily stomached by less gastronomically inclined viewers. I do wonder whether the cooking scenes did not manage to artificially sweeten my experience…
Streep’s other performance this year was opposite Alec Baldwin, in Nancy Meyers‘ latest “wealthy white witty women” comedy, “It’s Complicated“. What I most remembered about this film, in addition to Streep’s undeniably entertaining performance, was how she had once more been blessed with another strong male co-star, yet cut of a completely different cloth (or three) than Mr. Tucci.
Meyers has found a formula that works for her and her fans: Strong actors, visually appealing eye-candy locations, cute supporting actors, moments of highly predictable yet somewhat effective emotion, and always the neatest of bows to tie up the package. Only the grumpiest of failed filmmakers would criticize these films with more than a light paddle, because they don’t pretend to be anything more than that which they are.
That said, one can only eat a pleasant confection so many times, before one begins to tire of the taste. Just as “Julie & Julia” delivered strong performances on the back of an unremarkable script, “It’s Complicated” also gave Streep and Baldwin (especially Baldwin) the chance to create some memorable moments, despite an altogether unmemorable (albeit pleasant) story.