PLOT TWIST!!! I CHANGED THE BRACKET AGAIN.
"Sophie's Choice" was originally going to be up against the 1982 film "Plenty," a whopping 2.5 hour long WWII epic starring Tryon Lannister and Sam Neill opposite Meryl as a bitchy British spy (?) or something. I have changed the bracket for a number of very well thought out, intentional reasons: 1) "Plenty" is not streaming on ANY platforms, either free or for rent, and the only illegally streaming website I could find it on was taking FOREVER to load; 2) "Plenty" is TWO AND A HALF HOURS LONG, AND SO IS "SOPHIE'S CHOICE" AND THAT'S FIVE HOURS OF WWII; and least importantly, 3) I have already seen "Manhattan" and frankly, I started this Madness on March 4th which means I have been watching Meryl for the last 44 days AND THAT IS JUST A GODDAMMN LOT OF MERYL.
It hardly seems fair to pair "Manhattan" against "Sophie's Choice," but then again, it's hardly fair to pair "Sophie's Choice" against ANYTHING ELSE so HERE WE GO!!
Dir & Wri: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemmingway, Meryl Streep
Synopsis: "The life of a divorced television writer dating a teenage girl is further complicated when he falls in love with his best friend's mistress."
Real Quick Recap:
- Woody is a 42 year old failing comedy writer, casually dating a 17 year old, Mariel Hemingway
- They often hang out with Woody's best friend Michael Murphy and his wife Anne Byrne. One night, Michael confesses to Woody that he's been seeing a woman on the side and thinks he might be in love with her
- The other woman is DIANE KEATON, which you should remember from my "Marvin's Room" review I have some ~mixed feelings~ about
- Woody meets Diane and she immediately offends him and they start bantering, which as we all know is basically cat nip for Woody
- But, you know, ~she's not like other girls~ so Woody keeps finding himself wanting to hang out with her, even after she finds out that his ex-wife is MERYL who left him for A WOMAN and is now writing a book about discovering her LESBIANISM, which, as Diane puts it, is "totally emasculating" at which point I think we can assume Woody just jizzed his pants
- Seriously Woody, get some help
- Anyway, prompted by his ~confusing boner~ for Diane, Woody totally creeps on Meryl and basically accosts her in the street, begging her not to publish her book
- Meryl's all like "lol u ain't got enough money to pay me respect" #boybye
- Basically the rest of the movie is just Woody pining over Diane EVEN THOUGH HE STILL HAS A 17 YEAR OLD GIRLFRIEND WHO UNREASONABLY ADORES HIM
- Then Michael breaks up with Diane Keaton bc of ~guilt~ and is like "u guys hate each other u should date about it" and Woody is like "ok"
- So they briefly bang
- I guess the 17 yr old is busy with finals or something?
- Then Diane decides to go back to the married guy so Woody decides to go back to the 17 yr old but it's too late, she's going to London to study
- That's basically it?
- The end??
At some point during the pre or post-banging of Diane Keaton, Woody implores Meryl one more time not to publish her book, this time at her home while he's picking up their kid. I think this is the earliest glimpse we get of Meryl's Miranda Priestly vibes... using a soft voice while cutting off your balls. She's stoic AF, icy even, but not in an unattractive way. If anything, there's so much depth and heat bubbling just beneath the surface, it makes you all the more curious as to what she'd be like if you really pissed her off. It's like she lures you closer, then laughs in your face because she'll never let you in.
Meryl's performance in this is brief but iconic. Besides the Academy Award going to THAT HAIR OMG, she somehow managed to portray how all of us would someday feel about Woody Allen: frustrated by his genius because she's unwilling to put up with his history and baggage anymore. Basically, Meryl is a prophet. And damn, has she ever perfected the RBF/IDGAF Face.
Sophie's Choice (1982)
Dir: Alan J. Pakula (The Pelican Brief, All the President's Men)
Wri: William Styron (novel), Alan J. Pakula (screenplay)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol
Synopsis: "Sophie is the survivor of Nazi concentration camps, who has found a reason to live with Nathan, a sparkling if unsteady American Jew obsessed with the Holocaust."
HOLY SHIT KIDS HERE IT IS. THE MOMENT WE HAVE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR. But before anything, I have to preface this review with a little bit of my ~history~ with this film.
The other night, I was discussing Meryl Madness with my mother, and explained how I was leaving "Sophie's Choice" for the very end because of how much I did NOT want to watch it. She chuckled, and teased: "But Sarah, you've seen WAY worse and sadder movies than that, I promise you!"
My face darkened. "I don't think you remember, mom, but you kind of... talked about "Sophie's Choice" when we were kids. Like, it was not often that I saw you really upset or traumatized by something, but you got this... look in your eyes, whenever you talked about it..."
For those of you who don't know me, I am the youngest of four children. My mother's side of the family are all artists and a few filmmakers, so we were raised with an ardent and well educated love of great movies of television. My mom has a passion for the classics, but also has a (pretty adorable) squeamish tolerance for anything overtly violent or unbearably tragic.
I can DISTINCTLY RECALL being at some dinner party as a child, and somehow "Sophie's Choice" was mentioned in conversation, probably as the punchline to a joke. I remember the look in my mother's eyes as they misted over, her face turning to stone. "What's the big deal, what's it about?" I asked, like an idiot.
My mother spun around, and looked me intensely in the eyes.
"A MOTHER in a CONCENTRATION CAMP is FORCED to CHOOSE between letting her SON or her DAUGHTER getting MURDERED IN A GAS CHAMBER and she can only pick ONE to SURVIVE."
I gulped, trying my best to process this information. "And she can't just sacrifice herself?" I asked, like the good Christian girl I wasn't.
"NO!" my poor mother wailed. "The movie came out just after your brother was born. I didn't see it until shortly after your oldest sister was born. So when I watched it, I had a little boy and girl just like Meryl Streep does in the movie."
I honestly can't remember if there were still adults around participating in this conversation, or if they had all been turned off by how seriously my mother and I were discussing this, a famous Joanou party trick for dispersing a crowd of jovial small-talkers.
"I have given this A LOT OF THOUGHT," my mother said, and honestly even if there were still adults around partaking in this extremely intense discussion, I do not remember them. As far as my seven year old brain was concerned, my mother and I were the only ones in the room.
"If I HAD TO CHOOSE," she continued slowly, as I hung on every goddamn word to find out which one of her four children my mother would sacrifice to the Gestapo, "I would choose... NONE OF US."
Wait a fucking minute, that was an OPTION???
"I would choose that ALL OF US WOULD DIE."
"NONE OF US. Or... ALL OF US."
My mother nodded her head in self-approval, her eyes gazing far away to nowhere, presumably envisioning a dark and apocalyptic future in which we would all be jumping into a gas chamber together, holding hands and grimacing bravely like a family Christmas card picture.
I nodded my head furtively in agreement, echoing my mother's stoic resolution, impressed with the tragic beauty that My Mother, The Martyr, could still imbue.
I learned two things that night...
1) Don't ever watch "Sophie's Choice," and
2) If Nazis come back, mom's going to FUCKING KILL US ALL.
Now, for that Real Quick Recap!
- So the backdrop for this TWO AND A HALF LONG MOVIE is an excessively Gatsby-an third wheel narrator trope: Dragonslayer (Peter MacNicol) is the creepy new virgin who graduates from a half-day at Army and moves in downstairs from Bob Belcher's landlord, Mr. Fishoeder (Kevin Kline) and sweet, sad Meryl herself
- Fishoeder is a little ~crazy~ but in a "fun way!"
- It is not a fun way
- At all
- Literally the first night they meet, Fishoeder is CHASING MERYL DOWN THE STAIRS, presumably to run her out of the house for being "a Polish whore," where Meryl collapses in tears. THAT IS THE FIRST TIME WE SEE EITHER OF THEM.
- Dragonslayer listens to them fight, listens to them fuck, listens to them invite him over for an aggressively Gatsby-an brunch & romp around the city, and naturally falls head over heels for Meryl
- He narrates that he was just so young and naive and desperate for that Life Experience that good writers need that he made the classic mistake of calling it "passion" when it's really Motherfucking Abuse.
- Dragonslayer learns that Fishoeder is a ~brilliant~ biochemist something or other, which is why he's so ~crazy~ (from all the genius!)
- Meryl is a Polish immigrant and Auschwitz survivor
- I have to interject here that although I am NOT a fan of Meryl With An Accent, this is without a doubt her GREATEST ACCENTED PERFORMANCE. The fucking DETAIL in her expressions and pronunciations was so convincing and so impressive, I ~almost~ forgot how much I usually hate her accents. This was some proper, full grown character work and it is a Sight To Behold
- Meryl and Fishoeder fight constantly - because Fishoeder is FUCKING CRAZY and Meryl is deep in the throes of abuse - so the Power Couple starts full on using Dragonslayer as their buffer
- Seriously, look at all this goddamned GALLERY of hilariously awkward Third Wheel Adventures they go on:
- Like just have a threesome already, am I right?
- Legit thought this was gonna turn into The Dreamers though
- I mean COME ON:
- Anyway, Dragonslayer just creepily narrates his voyeurism and lust while musing about how he wants to write the Next Great American Novel but JUST NEEDS THE LIFE EXPERIENCE which tbh is such a fucking lazy trope for an author to use, first of all because it paints the AUTHOR as a goddamn meta-hero for writing the book you're reading (Sophie is based on a book), and secondly because F. SCOTT FITZGERALD ALREADY FUCKING DID IT and even HE could ~barely~ pull it off
- You know I'm right, "The Great Gatsby" is not a perfect fucking novel
- Anyways, every time Meryl and Fishoeder fight, Dragonslayer gets a huge boner because that means Fishoeder will storm out and leave Meryl alone upstairs where he can creepily go be a sweet virginal shoulder for her to cry on
- And ALSO he gets to hear her super fun Holocaust bedtime stories!!
- Basically, we learn that Meryl's father was a HUGE Nazi supporter but when the Nazis came for Poland, the Polacks were just as "dirty" as the Jews so they all got on the same train to Auschwitz anyway
- Meryl and her two babies are on the train and when they get there "the little girl is taken away to be gassed" under mysterious circumstances and her son is sent to the German Reform School
- Everyone at Auschwitz has a huge boner for Meryl though because she's apparently the hottest girl at camp (sorry) and she looks super Aryan
- She catches the eye of one of the guards, who wants her to be his secretary for totally non-sexual reasons
- Just kidding they're purely sexual
- All 42 remaining pounds of Meryl awkwardly flirt with him in her striped pajamas and shaved head, and she tries to convince him to save her son
- He refuses, gets super rapey with her, then sends her back to the camp
- She ends up surviving Auschwitz and somehow making it to America, where she arrives dying of anemia and sadness, where she literally faints into Fishoeder's crazy fucking Jewish arms
- They live happily ever after
- Just kidding they do not
- Meanwhile back in the present, Fishoeder is getting crazier
- Dragonslayer gets a call from Fishoeder's brother who wants to ~chat~
- Turns out Fishoeder is NOT a Genius Biochemist Whatever The Fuck *pikachu face*
- He's actually a fucking LIBRARIAN at a university because of his SEVERE PARANOID SCHIZOPHRENIA AND COCAINE PROBLEM
- Turns out that *charm* wasn't natural after all
- Maybe it's her, maybe it's Maybell-cocaine
- Dragonslayer goes home and Meryl and Fishoeder have had THE BIGGEST FIGHT YET so Dragonslayer and Meryl pack a bag and hit the road
- They end up in a sad motel or something (?) and Meryl is like ok let's have some wine time for one last Holocaust Bedtime Story
- Again, I have to interject that with my context of the movie before watching it, I REALLY thought that the whole "choice" moment was going to be, like, a LOT more climactic. Like I thought the title of the movie was referring to this long, agonizing CHOICE she'd have to make over which child to basically murder.
*Spoiler Alert* The scene is only about TWO minutes long. That's it. Then it's over.
Which kind of makes it more harrowing. Because she's literally given about 30 seconds to decide which child to save and which to die. And every goddamn second of it is awful.
- So being the real playboy that he is, Dragonslayer chooses THIS MOMENT to declare his love for Meryl and ask her to marry him. Super appropriate.
- Meryl kind of just shrugs and is like "idk man, whatever"
- They have sad, mournful, Holocausty sex. Great way to pop your cherry, Dragonslayer. God what an insufferable weenie.
- I mean if the movie title is referring to which "man" Meryl has to choose between, her options are REALLY BOTH NOT GREAT.
- Dragonslayer wakes up the next day to a long, sad note from Meryl saying that she loves him too, but she has to go back to Fishoeder. The way she sees it, he saved her life, and she cannot leave him.
- The way I SEE IT IS: Meryl never forgave herself for what happened with her children, and since she managed to survive AUSCHWITZ, she's got a real bad case of Survivor's Guilt. What a better way to assuage that existential anguish than with a super fucking abusive boyfriend? If Narcissist & Empath is the toxic relationship of my generation, then Mentally Ill Savior Complex & Guilt-Ridden Trauma Survivor was the jam of the 50's.
- Dragonslayer goes running back home to try and convince Meryl to change her mind, but when he gets there it's too late.
- Fucking Fishoeder stole some motherfucking CYANIDE from the biology lab of the university he is a LIBRARIAN at and he and Meryl fucking KILL THEMSELVES TOGETHER.
- And just like Romeo & Juliet (or Eva & Hitler, if you believe your history books), the two star-crossed CYCLE OF ABUSE lovers die in each other's arms.
- And that's the literal end of the goddamn movie
- And it's fucking awful
- God I hate this movie
- So much
Now maybe it's because I had it built up way too much in my head - and I really was expecting to have my mind BLOWN - but I actually found Meryl's performance fairly one-noted. Don't get me wrong, the accent was shockingly good, she learned Polish and German and spoke it beautifully, and she fluctuates from fragile and nervously in love to terrified and tragically abused, and she manages to become delicate breakable without every looking pathetic (or anywhere close to shrill).
But ultimately, if we're really honest here: there's no arc. And that's partly because of the story and the character, sure. The whole time you know Meryl has a secret in her eyes - is the secret that she's terribly unhappy in her relationship? Or is it the secret of what happened to her in Auschwitz? Or something else entirely? Maybe if the story had been told from HER point of view and not a whiny, immature, infuriating voyeur, we could've gotten more of the story rather than an adulterated and romanticized portrait of a sad woman constantly getting lusted after.
I observed in the "Kramer v. Kramer" v. "Deer Hunter" bracket that it was unfair and impossible to compare divorce and Vietnam. It feels equally wrong to try and do the same with surviving the Holocaust and surviving an abusive relationship. All I can say is... at least in "Sophie's Choice," Auschwitz isn't what killed Meryl.
And so of course, the winner of the FINAL BRACKET OF MOVIES in #MerylMadness is: