The Hours (2002)
Dir: Stephen Daldry (The Reader, Billy Elliot, The Crown)
Wri: Stephen Cunningham (novel), David Hare (screenplay)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, John C. Reilly, Toni Collette
Synopsis: "The story of how the novel "Mrs. Dalloway" affects three generations of women, all of whom, in one way or another, have had to deal with suicide in their lives."
First things first: drop everything, and do yourself a favor by listening to Phillip Glass's PHENOMENAL fucking score for "The Hours," truly one of my all time favorites.
Also a shout out to the costume designer, Ann Roth (Cold Mountain, The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley) for her OUTSTANDING work, as well as the set decorator, Phillipa Hart (Sense & Sensibility, How I Live Now), for making every single frame of this movie positively DRENCHED in color, beauty, and intention.
Real quick recap... I won't go totally chronologically, since the movie skips around through time so much.
- We follow the lives of three women: Meryl, Julie, and Nicole.
- For Meryl, it is 2001, and she is throwing a party for her long-time friend and former lover, Ed Harris, who is winning a big award for his poetry
- Ed is grumpy because 1) he has AIDs, and 2) he thinks he's only winning the award because he has AIDs and is dying
- Ed calls Meryl "Mrs. Dalloway," because she reminds him of the character in the book who spends her whole life distracting herself from shit that matters
- Meryl is gay?? Allison Janney is her wife?? Lol ok sure
- Julianne Moore is a super depressed 19050s housewife (my favorite kind!) who is pregnant with baby #2
- Her husband, John C. Reilly, means well, but is kind of suffocating and dismissive
- Julianne decides to bake a cake for John's birthday, and gets her 5 yr old boy to help her
- But she's also like ONE SECOND away from sticking her head in the oven
- She tries to make the cake, totally fucks it up because SHE IS VERY DEPRESSED
- Toni Collette, her very hot neighbor comes over and helps her
- Julianne TOTALLY FUCKING KISSES HER ON THE MOUTH
- Toni is like "lol ur so silly" and pretends NOTHING HAPPENS
- Julianne loses her mind EVEN MORE and finishes the cake and takes her kid to the babysitter's so she can go to a hotel room to read Mrs. Dalloway, escape from her miserable life, OH AND KILL HER FUCKING SELF
- At the last minute she decides not to, thinking of her baby
- Picks up her kid and goes home to celebrate John's b-day like NOTHING HAPPENED
- Nicole Kidman is Virginia Woolf, trying to write a new novel (Mrs. Dalloway) and having writer's block
- She's already had a few breakdowns and is being aggressively babysat by her husband and their staff
- She knows she's crazy and needs help, but all this help is making her crazier
- She sneaks out of the house and low key tries to run away to London, her husband finds her on the train platform to bring her home
Meanwhile, back in Meryl-land...
- She tries to convince Ed to come to the party
- He gives a big monologue about life and meaning and death
- ED FUCKING KILLS HIMSELF
- Fast forward a tiny bit to Ed's funeral
- PLOT TWIST, JULIANNE MOORE WAS ED'S MOM! ED WAS THE LITTLE BOY!
- Julianne comes to the funeral and talks to Meryl, tells her that after she had her baby, she left the family and moved up to Canada to become a cute little lesbian librarian
- She explains that she knows the devastating affect it had on Ed, but if she stayed, she would've killed herself. It might look selfish to others, but to her, she didn't feel that she had a choice at all. It was truly a matter of life and death.
...This will now be the THIRD Meryl bracket in a row that I am finding myself wanting to use the word *SHRILL*, which has the same kind of negative and insulting impact on me that most people feel about the word "cunt." Truly, to be called "shrill" is far worse, in my eyes. It's cheap and dismissive and almost always unmerited.
That being said, MERYL IS A TINY BIT SHRILL IN THIS MOVIE.
I've given this some thought, and I think the problem is that - despite being one of the greatest actresses of all time - she was a little out-shined by her co-stars. This is Julianne Moore AT HER GODDAMN FINEST, a woman who has been typecast for DECADES as "the crazy housewife" and now she gets to go at it with all she's got, and DAMN does it pay off. The nuance, the depth, the pain in every little moment of being stuck in a world that is killing her - in my opinion, it's Julianne's best work.
AND DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON NICOLE. Besides suffering through the burden of prosthetics, Nicole manages to COMPLETELY change her voice - not just an accent, but an entirely different register, a totally un-Nicole-like gruffness and raspiness that I can only begin to imagine show she accomplished. Even her stature is different, as if she transformed her very skeleton for this role. There's a reason she won the Oscar for it.
But what about Meryl??
Honestly, I don't think this was good casting. It felt almost similar to "Heartburn," in a weird way, where I could sense Meryl doing her best to play the straight guy when deep down, we all know she'd be better as the funnyman. But instead of it being a tension between comedy and drama, it was a fight between "realism" and character work - and we all know Meryl can act the FUCK out of some character work. So why did they cast HER as the "normal" one?
Also, can we just talk for ONE MINUTE about how AGGRESSIVELY NOT GAY she is? She can do so many things, why highlight the areas that aren't her best? I hate to say this, but Cate Blanchette would've been better cast in this (for gay reasons). But weirdly, Julianne Moore also would've been better in this role (for the "realism" reasons). When it comes to pulling of otherwise "shrill" characters, no one can make them tolerable and sympathetic like Julianne can.
Meryl, unfortunately, has too much gravitas to make that fragility believable. Meryl can do vulnerable, but she just can't do One Bad Day Away From Going Postal. She's too grounded. She believes in her self too much. So when she tries to do frazzled/unhappy/aloof, it just comes across as whiny and a little spoiled, because you KNOW she's stronger than that. People may disagree with me on this one, but that's where I'm at. (Note: that is NOT to say that I think Julianne Moore comes across as weak, but she just has different colors on her palette than Meryl does).
Dir: Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Her, Where the Wild Things Are)
Novel: Susan Orlean
Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synecdoche New York)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper
Synopsis: "A lovelorn screenwriter becomes desperate as he tries and fails to adapt 'The Orchid Thief' by Susan Orlean for the screen."
Before anything else, I have to give a REAL QUICK RANT.
Many moons ago, I dated a real asshole, and he fucking LOVED "Adaptation" and "Being John Malkovich." Like they were some of his FAVORITE MOVIES OF ALL TIME (probably why it took me so long to watch them, tbh). He always gave me shit about never having seen them. He ALSO ALWAYS GAVE ME SHIT about my writing, which he begrudgingly admitted was "my best quality," criticizing that I was "the most selfish, self-indulgent writer" he'd ever met, that my writing (which are LITERALLY autobiographical essays??) was "totally self-involved, lacking any maturity or perspective."
AND NOW THAT I FINALLY WATCH ONE OF HIS FAVORITE MOVIES OF ALL TIME, I COME TO FIND OUT THAT IT HAS A SCREENPLAY WRITTEN BY CHARLIE KAUFMAN, AND IS LITERALLY ABOUT CHARLIE KAUFMAN TRYING TO WRITE A SCREENPLAY ABOUT CHARLIE KAUFMAN. In the course of the film, his character jerks off to not one, not two, but THREE women who happen to be in his life (none of whom are the woman he's "in love with"). He spends the WHOLE MOVIE BEMOANING HOW SELFISH AND DEPRAVED HE IS.
BUT NO, MY WRITING WAS SELFISH AND SELF-INVOLVED AND LACKED MATURITY. LIKE OBVIOUSLY I'M NOT COMPARING MYSELF TO CHARLIE KAUFMAN HE'S CLEARLY AN AMAZING WRITER AND IS DOING IT INTENTIONALLY AND THERE ARE ABOUT 1,000 LITTLE EASTER EGGS OF GENIUS LAYERED IN THROUGHOUT THE SCRIPT, BUT STILL.
The first R rated movie I ever saw in theatres was "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" by Charlie Kaufmann when I was eleven years old, so I've known I fucking love his work for sixteen years. I have been saving "Adaptation" for near the end of the list as a TREAT to myself, because it's one of the films I've been the MOST excited about. I could only make it to Bracket #11.
The truth is, NOT every Meryl film is a #banger, even if her performance usually is. And damn, I really needed a banger.
I really, really, REALLY loved this movie. And if you're familiar at all with Charlie Kaufman, you know that it would be damn near impossible to even attempt a "real quick recap," so I'm not going to. True to the Charlie Kaufman experience, I will instead barrage you with a series of totally random and out of order images, and offer no explanation for any of them. Partly because that's kind of what watching one of his movies is like, and partly because you should really do yourself a favor and just watch it. It's beautiful, it's heartbreaking, it's devastating. It's disappointing. It's ugly and it's generous. And it's fucking phenomenal.
(Oh yeah, and I'm throwing in a picture of Judy Greer's tits because YOU KNOW WHAT? SHE HAS THE MOST PERFECT BREASTS I'VE EVER SEEN AND THEY SHOULD BE CELEBRATED. THE OSCAR GOES TO JUDY GREER AND HER BEAUTIFUL, FLAWLESS DECOULLETAGE.)
I didn't just love the movie, however. I also really, really, REALLY fucking loved Meryl in this. Without a doubt, this is in my TOP THREE Meryl performances so far. This was, for lack of a better word...
I've spoken at LENGTH about Shrill Meryl (sorry). But here, we have what all those shrill characters were trying to do PLUS the fucking WEALTH of gravitas that Meryl embodies in every damn breath she takes. I call this "Ugly Meryl," because she was strong, selfish, desperate, weak, lonely, disappointed, vicious, cruel, in love, violent, high, hiding, self-loathing, self-assured, insecure, in charge, and totally falling apart ALL AT THE SAME GODDAMN TIME. All her "shrill" characters only had about half these qualities. It's as if all the weakness she had in "The Hours" was combined with all the relentless cuntiness she had in "Doubt" or "Dancing at Lughnasa." There was that sense of high status she gave us in "Devil Wears Prada" and "She-Devil," but also the wavering, fragile femininity we see in "Still of the Night" and that wicked duplicity she gives in "French Lieutenant's Woman." This was A New Meryl, and it was also in a VERY GOOD MOVIE, and I cannot applaud this film or Meryl's performance in it enough. I'll be shocked if "Adaptation" doesn't make it to the Final Four. (And the ONLY REASON Meryl didn't win her 3rd Oscar for it is because she was up against Nicole Kidman in "The Hours"!!)
To play such an ugly character so heartbreakingly well, the winner of Bracket #11 is definitively and forever:
One of the funnier lines in the movie:
Meryl: Mom, I'd like you to meet my roommate, Aretha.
Aretha: Yes ma'am, nice to meet you.
Shirley: Are you black?
Shirley: Well that's a very unusual name.