August: Osage County (2013)
Dir: John Wells (ER, Shameless)
Play & Screenplay: Tracy Letts (Bug, Superior Donuts; also he's the dad in "Lady Bird!")
Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Sam Shepherd, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Misty Upham
Synopsis: "A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them."
Guess what? I'm gonna have to preface this with a rant.
I think the reason it took me SO LONG to see this movie was because when I was just a young theatre school student in western Canada, we were required to go see at least 5 plays in Vancouver a semester. There were about 10 we could choose from, and we usually ended up picking our 5 shows based on carpools, affordability, and whether or not the schedule conflicted with the plays we were acting in that month.
For whatever reason, EVERYONE went to go see "August: Osage County" EXCEPT FOR ME. I can't remember why - probably had to do with scheduling, or that I was too cheap to spend the $$ on seeing a show at a bigger and better venue - but I ended up being like one of the 3 kids that whole semester who saw "Don Quixote" instead, a play that I NOW KNOW I DESPISE.
I was salty for missing what I was told was an incredible show, but I was EVEN SALTIER because LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO CAME BACK FROM THAT SHOW told me,
"Omg Sarah, there was a teenager in that play who you could've played IN YOUR SLEEP hahahaha for a second we thought it WAS ACTUALLY YOU hahahaha you totally should've been in that play."
Which sounds like an innocuous and random compliment (?) but really, it just felt like I had not only missed out on a great show to instead see an 80 year old man do NAKED GODDAMN CARTWHEELS across the stage while singing about FUCKING WINDMILLS and being chased around by a FAT, FARTING IDIOT, but ALSO I remain deeply resentful/jealous of all young actresses who have been randomly lucky enough to get cast in those niche roles that I could, as they say, "play in my sleep."
So yeah, okay, I obviously get it, Jean is usually cast as the "snarky, sarcastic, sullen, smoking teenager," is vaguely goth/alternative, and looks/acts mature enough to get hit on by a middle-aged man. Which is, admittedly, VERY on-brand for me. Sidebar, how fucking skinny was I in high school?? Crazy to think I had a life before alcohol...
BUT ENOUGH ABOUT MY FAILED DREAMS & DATING HISTORY, IT'S TIME FOR A... real quick recap:
- Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in the hottest month of the year. Sam Shepherd, a one-hit-wonder poet, hires a Native American housekeeper/cook to keep an eye on his rancid cunt of a wife, Meryl Streep, who despite suffering from mouth cancer and an impressive pill addiction, still manages to be a rancid cunt
- Sam Shepherd goes out for a drink and never comes back
- Meryl calls over her sister, Character Actress Margo Martindale (!), and Margo's husband Chris Cooper, to wait with her til he comes back
- They think he might really be gone for good this time, so they call the WHOLE DAMN FAMILY:
MISTY UPHAM, the housekeeper.
She was an incredible Native American actress who died tragically in 2014, and she did NOT get enough credit for this role/movie.
- So, it's a good thing the whole family got together, because Sam didn't just disappear on a bender, he committed suicide on his boat
- Now it's a family reunion/funeral
- Julia and Ewan are fighting a LOT
- Abigail is being an aggressively sullen teenager
- Meryl is doing ALL THE DRUGS
- Character Actress Margo Martindale is being high-pitched and Southern AF trying to sugarcoat how shitty everything is
- They have The Most Epically Rough Funeral Lunch Of All Time, which ends with Julia WRESTLING MERYL TO THE GROUND trying to get her drugs out of her hands
- They take Meryl to the hospital, but like, what are you supposed to do with a 70+ year old drug addict who's DOCTOR is prescribing her all the pills?
- Have a cocktail. That's what you're supposed to do.
- At least the world's worst lunch helps bond the sisters together, who low key discuss that although they're happy Julianne has found love, it's with THEIR COUSIN and that's a little weird, even for Oklahoma
- She tells them she had a hysterectomy from cervical cancer last year so they can't have kids anyway, and they're moving to New York in a few days so she doesn't really give a fuck. She took care of the parents for this long, it's someone else's turn now.
- Juliette's like NOT IT
- Julia REALLY hates Meryl (probably because they're basically the same person), but her marriage is falling apart so who knows, maybe she'll stay and take care of her?
- Then Meryl comes out to join her daughters, and gives THE MOST DEPRESSING MONOLOGUE OF ALL TIME about what a truly wretched childhood she had, and how lucky her daughters are that at least she's not as much of a cunt as HER mother was
- In the middle of the night, Abigail sneaks out to smoke some POT with her creepy uncle-to-be, Dermot, who immediately starts ASKING THE FOURTEEN YEAR OLD CHILD TO GET NAKED.
- Luckily, Misty overhears everything, and races outside to start hitting Dermot with a shovel. Go Misty!!
- The whole house wakes up and everyone gets into ANOTHER fight. Juliette Lewis (who staunchly, tragically defends him) & Dermot Mulroney leave for the airport to go back to Florida
- In the morning, Ewan drives Abigail back to Colorado, leaving Julia in the house alone. When she gets back, Ewan will start filing for divorce. It's truly over.
- The next day, Julia accidentally overhears Character Actress Margo Martindale being SUPER MEAN to Bodysnatch Cumberbund, and Chris Cooper YELLS at her that they've been married 38 years but if she can't figure out a way to stop being a rancid cunt like her sister Meryl, they're not gonna make it to 39!
- Julia checks to see if Character Actress Margo Martindale is okay, and Character Actress Margo Martindale confronts her about what's going on with Beaniebag Cabbagepatch and Julianne Nicholson, and Julia admits that they're in love and running away together
- Shitty sister move, but also, it's her COUSIN, and more to the point, Character Actress Margo Martindale is very persuasive
- CHARACTER ACTRESS MARGO MARTINDALE CONFESSES TO JULIA ROBERTS THAT THEY ARE NOT COUSINS, THEY ARE BROTHER AND SISTER
- BECAUSE CHARACTER ACTRESS MARGO MARTINDALE TOTALLY HAD AN AFFAIR WITH SAM SHEPHERD
- AND NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT IT EXCEPT HER, SAM SHEPHERD, AND NOW JULIA ROBERTS
- OH NO POOR JULIANNE NICHOLSON & BUTTERSCOTCH CUTTLEFISH
- Julia, Julianne, and Meryl sit down to have lunch, and Julianne plans on telling Meryl about her and Buckleberry Cashewchips.
- Before she can tell her - while Julia is hilariously yelling at Meryl to eat her food - Meryl steals All The Thunder and confesses that SHE'S ALWAYS KNOWN BUBBLEBUTT CACTUSPATCH WAS SAM SHEPHERD & CHARACTER ACTRESS MARGO MARTINDALE'S SON!!!
- SHE ALSO CONFESSES THAT SAM SHEPHERD BASICALLY LEFT A NOTE SAYING HE WAS GOING TO KILL HIMSELF
- AND MERYL DIDN'T BELIEVE HIM
- SO SHE DIDN'T TELL ANYONE
- UNTIL IT WAS OBVIOUSLY TOO LATE
- HOLY FUCKING SHIT
- Julianne's like fuck this, fuck you, and fuck you too, I'm going to NY with my brother and you can all go fuck yourselves
- At this point, like, follow your bliss sweetie, there's nothing for you here
- Julia has a long, hard look at Meryl
- She gives her a hug
- You know it's her last
- And just like that, Julia leaves. Fuck this shit. I'm done.
- Meryl crawls up the stairs to Misty and collapses in her arms, realizing that she has successfully pushed away every single person in her life.
- And that's the fucking end.
This is Meryl at her All Time Ugliest, and I for one am HERE FOR IT. A significant amount of credit must also be paid to Tracy Letts for writing this behemoth, and giving Meryl the gift of such a phenomenally rich, brutal, heartbreaking, nasty, complicated, familiar, exhausting, brilliant role. I found myself thinking more than once during the movie, "God, I can't wait until I'm old, so I can play this woman someday." And you could literally SEE Meryl's eyes twinkling the whole time, because she was just LIVING IT and LOVING IT. It was Meryl Unleashed. Meryl Unrated. The ugliness she gave us in "Adaptation" turned out to just be the tip of the iceberg, because she is clearly capable of EVEN MORE. I've said this before and I'll say it again, but Meryl as a Villain is kind of her sweet spot. Like yeah, she can do the romantic roles, she can be vulnerable and troubled and struggling, but at this point in her career she has such a rich and impenetrable foundation that seeing her become this larger-than-life force of ruthless venom was just a goddamn treat. Because deep down, there are those little veins of vulnerable and troubled and struggling, and she shows us these tiny flashes of it just at the right moment, just enough to keep her human, and it's utterly mesmerizing.
The Post (2017)
Dir: Steven Spielberg (like literally every movie ever made)
Wri: Liz Hannah (All the Bright Places) & Josh Singer (Spotlight, First Man)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Sarah Paulson
Synopsis: "A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country's first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between the press and the government."
Before I give a real quick recap or attempt to compare quite possible THE TWO MOST RADICALLY DIFFERENT PERFORMANCES IN THE BRACKETS TO DATE, I'm gonna have to go on another classic #SarahRant:
During the month of March I was not only devoting myself to Meryl Madness, I was also working as a PA (Production Assistant) on an indie film crew. It was both exhausting and educational, and introduced me to a whole world of set life I'd never really considered before: set dressing. Because our crew was so small and the days we could be available were often inconsistent, I ended up getting to be a fill-in set dresser on a few of the shoot days. On a "proper" film set, there would be an actual Art Dept that has worked with the director and cinematographer and their vision for the atmosphere/mood/color palette of the film, and together with the locations people and the props people (and the costume people too), come up with what the actual physical places should look like in each frame. On the day of shooting, someone called an "on set dresser" arrives - they've worked with the Art Dept, and they are the hands-on person to be there during the grueling hours of filming and make sure that all the right shit gets into each room, on each desk, filling up all the bookshelves, the cabinets, the countertops, the purses, etc. It's all the STUFF that makes a movie look like a movie.
I had NEVER really noticed these details before I worked on this film crew, and understandably, it is now ALL I CAN SEE in movies. It's more like a cool extra layer of detail, something I happen to appreciate on a new level now that I've dabbled in how much time, energy, and effort goes into it.
BUT MY GOD LET ME TELL YOU, "THE POST" HAD SOME OF THE BEST GODDAMN SET DRESSING I'VE EVER SEEN.
I had to do some research. Turns out the set dresser for "The Post" was a woman (obviously) named Rena DeAngelo, and her resume includes such films as: Ocean's 8, The Help, Side Effects, Mad Men, OH YEAH AND A LITTLE MOVIE CALLED "COFFEE AND CIGARETTES." Messy, busy, brilliant. Intentional AF. A most special shout out to this woman and her vital, extraordinary, totally under-appreciated artwork.
It also came as NO surprise to me that the costumes were once again done by the exceptionally talented Ann Roth (The English Patient, The Hours, The Talented Mr. Ripeley, Doubt, Closer, The Village, Mamma Mia, Mildred Pierce...) Seriously her resume goes on and on and on. It just blows my goddamn mind that the woman responsible for Natalie Portman's iconic pink wig in "Closer" is the same genius behind the unforgettable yellow cloaks in "The Village" and Meryl's FUCKING OVERALLS in "Mamma Mia!" NOT TO MENTION ALL HER PERIOD PIECES. Seriously, this woman is an ICON. ALSO she was born on HALLOWEEN and is 87 AMERICAN GODDAMN YEARS OLD.
Okay, NOW I AM READY for a ~ Real Quick Recap ~
- Matthew Rhys (the guy who takes his dick out in that episode of "Girls") is Daniel Ellsberg, a correspondent to Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War
- Rhys tells him that the war is straight up bonkers, and McNamara is basically like "yeah that's what I thought" but then turns right around and tells all of America that the war is going great
- This pisses Rhys off, so he decides to FUCKING STEAL THE PENTAGON PAPERS (I guess they just keep a giant paper trail of all their bad decisions??) and then MAIL THEM TO THE NEW YORK TIMES
- Meanwhile, The Washington Post is basically at war with the NY Times over who is the best paper in the US
- Meryl is the owner/heiress of the Post, but only because her dad gave it to her husband and her husband committed suicide
- Tom Hanks is the lead reporter (or something?) and he desperately wants to Save The Post
- Honestly there are so many guys in suits running around and smoking and yelling it was really hard to keep track of who was who and what anyone's job was
- I know Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) plays a guy who's name is literally Bagofdicks
- Okay okay I just fact checked and his name is actually Ben Bagdikian
- Tom Hanks and Saul Bagofdicks get a hold of the Pentagon Papers and then spend most of the movie harassing Meryl about whether or not to run the story
- RICHARD FUCKING NIXON has literally BANNED the NY Times (and I guess all papers?) "and any of their agents" from running anymore stories on the Pentagon Papers, so if they run the story they're basically disobeying the president, which makes it Kind Of A Big Deal
- Meryl is super intelligent but very timid & proper, so she kind of lets herself get walked all over by these penis-in-suits
- There is literally a scene where Tom Hanks has a conversation with his wife, Sarah Paulson (#gayicon) who gently reminds him that if shit hits the fan, he can always get another job - but Meryl is the one with everything to lose
- Tom comes back to Meryl and is like "so it's been brought to my attention how much you have at stake here..." LIKE DID HE LITERALLY NOT REALIZE THAT UNTIL HIS AMAZING GAY WIFE POINTED IT OUT??
- Anyway, Meryl decides to be Punk Rock and run the story, damn the man!
- BUT Saul Bagofdicks casually FORGETS to mention that his source (Rhys) was the same source for the NY Times, and by using the same source they are in CONTEMPT OF THE COURT (still no idea what that really means)
- They end up going to court (contemptuously?), but the judge rules that it is their first amendment RIGHT to publish whatever the fuck they want
- Like two minutes later, Watergate happens anyway, so fuck Nixon and fuck Vietnam
I have SOME THOUGHTS on this movie but I'll try to keep them brief.
The thing is, this isn't a bad movie... it's just okay. It's a totally decent airplane movie. Honestly, it's just a lot of people running around making phone calls, or waiting around for someone to call them. I was both bored and anxious the whole time. They easily could've called this movie How Stressful Life Was Before Cell Phones. And frankly, I think you can chalk it all up to the directing.
Steven Spielberg was NOT the right director for this movie. There, I said it.
At a point, the music was SO cheesy I had to pause and look up who did it: JOHN FUCKING WILLIAMS! OOPS! Like obviously he knows what he's doing, but my god, in this context it felt like a goddamn Hallmark movie about a single mom going back to college, or a dog about to win a snowboarding competition.
In Spielberg's defense, there really isn't a whole lot of plot to work with. It's a pretty straight forward story, so he really had to pull out all the stops to heighten the drama - and at times, it was effective. How fucking ever, there is NEVER A GOOOD GODDAMN REASON to block a scene with ONE character facing the camera, talking to FIVE other people behind him, ALSO FACING THE CAMERA. It was exaggerated, it was melodramatic, and it totally took me out of the story. There was one scene so clumsily blocked that I swear I could see one of the actors ROLL HIS EYES and I didn't fucking blame him.
You know who actually would've been a super interesting choice? David Fincher. Not just because I'm a huge Fincher fan, but because he is a MASTER at finding inanimate characters in stories... he does these sweeping, continuous shots through floorboards and side paneling, exposing the pipes and insulation of an infrastructure in a really interesting way. AND HE WOULD'VE DONE SO MANY COOL THINGS WITH THE NEWSPAPER-MAKING MACHINES. I kept thinking to myself how Spielberg was just throwing away these casual intercut shots of the random print-making pieces; a few metal chunks here, a few interlocking wheels there. You know what would've been fucking rad? If throughout the film we saw those intercut shots, but more intentionally, and then just as we were building to the climax of Meryl choosing to run the story, we pan out, and get to see the machine for the Sum Of Its Parts, and how all those random little pieces fit together to PRINT an actual newspaper, which is literally just a metaphor for JOURNALISM ITSELF: random pieces of information that don't seem useful or connected until you pan out and realize you have a STORY. There was this whole beautiful character sitting there the whole time, and she barely got any screen time: the goddamn printing press.
Maybe it's just me and my personal aesthetic, but this movie could've been a hell of a lot more interesting if it had just been a little grittier, a little more honest. And yeah, in my perfect world Trent Reznor would've done the score and IT WOULD'VE BEEN AMAZING AND YOU KNOW IT.
But back to the point, MERYL: This was actually kind of a new Meryl for the bracket... not Shrill Meryl, and not quite Weak Meryl, but... Soft Meryl, maybe? It was some fine character work, I will say that. She fully embodied new characteristics, mannerisms, and a voice register that was not her own and not a rehash of anything I've seen her do before. Since Kay Graham was a real person, I think she must've somehow gotten ahold of video footage of her to accomplish such intricate and specific work. And we get to see her work up to making a BIG decision, and come into her own in a pretty big way, which is liberating to watch of any character. Once again, Meryl is able to pull of big emotions with depth and subtlety, and move you to root for her no matter the character's flaws. It's a trick that only works when it comes from a genuine place, and Meryl gives you that in "The Post."
Generally speaking, I am normally drawn to the artful craft of subtlety. However, in this particular case, Soft Meryl just didn't give me as much as Unrated Meryl did. And for that reason, the winner of Bracket #12 is...