Well, I couldn't have picked two more PERFECT films to compete against each other. I call this bracket:
BATTLE OF THE RELENTLESS CUNTS.
Prepare yourself, because I'm about to use the word "cunt" A LOT (more than usual).
The Iron Lady (2011)
Dir: Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!)
Wri: Abi Morgan (Shame, Suffragette)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant, Olivia Colman
Synopsis: "An elderly Margaret Thatcher talks to the imagined presence of her recently deceased husband as she struggles to come to terms with his death while scenes from her past life, from girlhood to British prime minister, intervene."
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
1. MARK COULIER (Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, Bohemian Rhapsody, Jurassic World)
2. J. ROY HELLAND (Literally every single movie Meryl Streep has ever been in)
These two gentleman are responsible for the INSANE MAKE UP / PROSTHETICS that LITERALLY transformed Meryl Streep into Margaret Thatcher. They won Oscars for their work in this movie and they 1000% deserved it, and they were up against "Albert Nobbs" and "Harry Potter," who were no small contenders. But seriously, LOOK AT THIS FUCKING SORCERY:
...And yeah, I'm gonna make you look at a list of THEIR ENTIRE MAKE UP DEPARTMENT, because those crews are fucking brutal and thankless and LOOK HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE INVOLVED IN THIS THAT DIDN'T GET TO WIN AN OSCAR. THEY DESERVE YOUR PRAISE. LOOK AT THEIR NAMES. LOOK AT THEM!!!!
It might seem excessive to give those boys so much credit, but it really isn't. First of all, Meryl transformed into an ICONIC woman who's face most people were familiar with already. They made her believable in ways that even her acting couldn't have otherwise. And just as important, I think it takes EXTRAORDINARY talent to be able to ACT through a set of fake goddamn teeth. AND a fake nose!! I can't imagine trying to pull out my deepest and best work while feeling like I was wearing a cumbersome children's Halloween mask. (It's worth noting that MOST nominees who wear prosthetics end up winning... actually, someone should fact check that and see how many have won! I know Nicole Kidman in "The Hours" and Rami Malek in "Bohemian Rhapsody" off the top of my head, but I'd put good money on there being a few others).
BUT I DIGRESS.
So. Margaret Thatcher.
I knew almost NOTHING about her before watching this movie, and I made a point of not looking up anything about her until after I'd seen it. I wanted an unadulterated view of Meryl's performance, and I was curious to see how biased it was.
To be honest: I really don't fucking get politics. Like, I know the basics, but that's about it. I know I should care more but I just can't bring myself to, unless it's something really fucking urgent like Trump's space force. But even then I'm like can I watch a funny sketch or a late night talk show rant about it instead?? Sorry, but this shit is about as interesting to me as Algebra 2. So if I gloss over or radically over-generalize shit, don't tell me how wrong I got it, I don't fucking care, and that isn't the goddamn point.
HOW FUCKING EVER... Pretty sure I hate Margaret Thatcher?? I really want to like her - and there are certainly elements about her character that I admire - but politically, she said and did some REALLY ignorant and fucked up things. She grew up "poor" and worked her way to the top, she assumed that anyone else could, too. But she was also white, and she wasn't THAT poor, and she was fucking EDUCATED. Her dad was the mayor of a small town, which is probably what helped get her into Oxford, which she acts like she did "all by herself." And, like, she did, but she also kind of had a lot of engrained privilege that she totally ignores. It was wildly radical to be a woman in politics at that time, and by no means am I overlooking that accomplishment: she was not only the FIRST female Prime Minister (and the ONLY one), she was also the LONGEST RUNNING one. That's an enormous accomplishment. ...At the same time, one could say that killing 6 million Jews was also an "enormous accomplishment," so just because something seems really hard to do and gets done doesn't necessarily mean IT WAS A GOOD THING. Probably a bit too harsh to compare Margaret Thatcher to Hitler, but she was fucking nuts when it came to conceptions of the struggling working class and what can I say, it struck an angry British punk-rock chord in me.
Real quick recap:
- Margaret is like 1000 years old and a little Alzheimer-y, wandering around her MANSION where she gets to live after being PM
- She talks to the ghost of her dead husband, Jim Broadbent, whom I hereby name King of the Beta Males (a high honor)
- Through flashbacks, we see how she got to where she is today
- Daughter of a grocer/mayor (her dad is Jorah Mormont from Game of Thrones!), went to Oxford, then started some government job (unclear on how she got it though?)
- She meets her adorable husband, who helps her run for parliament. Then when she loses, he's like "hey babe I'll never tie you down I love your ambition, but you know you have a better chance of winning if you marry me" and she's like "oh Jim, you had me at WINNING!"
- She does give this cute speech though about how she "won't die washing a tea cup" like she won't just be his wife and mother their future children, she's got ambitions and won't let him stand in her way. He just says, "Dude, that's why I want to marry you." It's actually pretty cute.
- Shout out to Alexandra Roach & Harry Lloyd, who play Young Meryl & Jim (Fun Fact: Harry Lloyd also played Young Jonathan Pryce in "The Wife" with Glenn Close! Someday you'll get to grow up, Harry, we promise!)
- Meryl gets a seat in parliament, has her twin babies, works for years and years and no one likes her because she's a woman and she's *shrill* (she kinda is though...)
- She works as the Secretary of Education and causes controversy pretty quickly by slashing funding to shit without really going through the proper protocol... like she literally took away FREE MILK for children at school?? Why??
- She seems to do lots of shit like this, always in the name of "helping the country" but like WHO is the country if not all the hungry children in it??
- Tired of being "bullied" by the Boy's Club, one day she's like FUCK IT and, much to the disappointment of her exhausted family, she decides to run for Prime Minister
- With the help of fellow cabinet member Airey, she goes to a voice coach and learns how to talk like a real goddamn person and not a cartoon character; also gets the iconic Margaret Hair
- Airey totally gets blown up in his car by some IRA radicals, I think they meant to blow up Margaret
- She wins Prime Minister, basically obliterates the economy (I mean it can't have all been her fault, but from what I read she definitely had a heavy hand in it). Some more radicals even try to blow her and Jim up at the Grand Hotel, it's pretty gnarly
- She literally tries to tax EVERYBODY the same amount, regardless of income?? Like see, this is the shit I don't understand and it pisses me off. There is NO POSSIBLE EXPLANATION that anyone could give me for why a young adult with crippling student loan debt (random example...) should get the same amount of taxes as a millionaire Baby Boomer. HOW DOES THAT MAKE SENSE?
- IT DOESN'T
- MARGARET IS KIND OF A NIGHTMARE
- She does some other good stuff too, I guess, probably. She is accredited with helping stop the Cold War, and after she orders a ship in Argentina to engage in warfare, she HANDWRITES LETTERS TO THE 300 FAMILIES OF THE DECEASED. Which is admittedly a very nice touch, but also, kind of as effective as a mass Tweet?? #justsaying
- One day after being PM for fucking ever, she kind of snaps at her cabinet members, especially ANTHONY HEAD WHO PLAYS GILES ON "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" WOO!!!
- I think she's just exhausted, tbh
- They start going behind her back and work to nominate somebody new
- She pulls out of the race and after FIFTEEN YEARS as PM, steps down
- The ghost of Jim leaves her, aww, sad
- It basically ends with Meryl pretty drugged up, ominously washing a tea cup... WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT SHE SAID IN HER PROPOSAL SPEECH TO YOUNG JIM THAT SHE DID NOT WANT TO DO WITH HER LIFE.
- But, like, maybe you shouldn't have been such a heinous bitch and so fucking ignorant to the lower/middle class and you should've appreciated Jim more? Idk
Regarding Meryl's performance, this was truly some Next Level Shit. This was one of those rare treats where I got to see Meryl do something NEW. And I've seen her rehash a lot of her old tricks, remember, I'VE BEEN WATCHING MERYL STREEP MOVIES NON FUCKING STOP. I am accustomed to what it looks like when she's coasting or phoning it in (mind you, Meryl half-assing it is still more ass than most asses onscreen).
Meryl wasn't just relentless, she was human. She doubted herself. She was spoiled one second, and then remorseful the next. She was ambitious and selfish and rude, but could do it all with the grace of a queen and the mischievous false naiveté of a capricious school-girl. She always knew what the fuck she was doing, and her simpering voice and goddamn pearls made her all the more threatening: because you never see it coming. You actually feel for her, at times, because of how hard it must have been as a woman in that environment, literally fighting your whole life just to be taken seriously, just to even get in the room. But it comes at a huge cost, and by the end of the film, you see it. And you know she's not entirely sure if it was worth it.
Again, I don't know a whole lot about Margaret Thatcher as a person and - I cannot stress this enough - I really do not care. But from what I could tell, this film did not seem to be attempting to glorify or pacify the damage she did, it simply captured the lifetime of a very complex, difficult woman at a time when simply existing was an act of rebellion.
We're one nun away from done...
Dir: John Patrick Shanley
Wri: John Patrick Shanley (play & screenplay)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis
Synopsis: "A Catholic school principal questions a priest's ambiguous relationship with a troubled young student."
Damn. Okay. Here we are. Motherfucking DOUBT.
This is actually one of the 4 Meryl movies I had seen, since it was the obligation of all theatre students at my alma mater to study the play - which is why, I'm sorry to say, I do not care for the film version. Maybe my expectations were just too high, or maybe (and this I fear most of all) I literally didn't get the point of the play. Since it was adapted for the screen AND directed by the same guy who wrote the play, I'm inclined to believe the worst: I never understood his original intention, and every iteration and production I saw of it as a young adult was a total LIE.
Granted, that's not really how "art" works, especially a "dirty" one like theatre/film where there are SO many chefs in the kitchen that the integrity of original intent is a myth, sort of like a unicorn. I think most playwrights/filmmakers would agree on this (to a point, of course), that the best stories are sort of left in the hands of the audience to interpret individually. Of course, this can backfire dangerously: Scarface, Fight Club, and Taxi Driver, to name a few, will forever haunt me for how epically their fan clubs misinterpret (what I believe to be) the true message. Relativism's a bitch.
ANYWAY, real quick recap:
- The Bronx, 1964: Meryl is a real cunty nun/principal at a Catholic school. Amy Adams is an endearingly stupid and naive nun/coworker, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (RIP) is their priest.
- Phillip gives a sermon about the power of doubt; that doubt and faith are essentially two sides of the same coin
- Meryl sees a boy at the school pull away from Phillip in an unusual way. Being cunty, she stars "spreading the word" to the other nuns to keep an eye out on Phillip
- Amy gets a note to send the school's only (!) African American student, a boy named Donald Glover, to meet Phillip in the rectory. When he returns to class, she smells alcohol on his breath, and later that day, she sees Phillip put a clean shirt in Donald's locker. Uh oh.
- Meryl and Amy confront Phillip, who admits that he caught Donald drinking wine in the rectory and so he had a talk with him, but that he felt bad for the kid and didn't to make a big deal of it. Meryl's skepticism has turned to full blown suspicion.
- Amy confronts Phillip later, and asks about the shirt in the locker... she didn't mention it to Meryl, and feels bad for withholding information, but deep down she believes that there is a good explanation for everything, and is understandably intimidated by Meryl and her Very Insane Cuntiness
- Meryl meets with Viola Davis, Donald's mother. They have ONE OF THE MOST ICONIC CONVERSATIONS IN THEATRE HISTORY, and it is an extraordinary scene that I never get tired of watching.
- Basically, Viola tells Meryl that she will do ANYTHING she can to keep her boy in school, because he's black and it's the 60's and he will have a better future if he graduates from a Catholic School. ALSO, Viola's shitty husband is an abusive alcoholic, and staying at the school and being an altar boy after hours protects her son from him. AND AS IF THAT ISN'T ENOUGH, Viola then confesses that she KNOWS her son is probably gay, and if "something" happened with Phillip, she doesn't care: better it be with a good (white) priest than with some creep down at the bus depot, and furthermore, at least the priest will be discrete - because if the shitty dad found out, she's certain he would beat her son to death.
- Yeah, GOOD LUCK RECOVERING FROM ALL THAT.
- After this conversation, Meryl is reasonably struck. But instead of thinking about it like a normal person, she decides to BURN PHILLIP TO THE GROUND. She confronts him again and says that she has spoken to other nuns at his previous parishes and gotten corroborating stories that confirm the rumors, and threatens to tell all the parents in the school unless he RESIGNS.
- Phillip is basically fucked, and leaves the school in disgrace. It's a huge bummer.
- Some time passes, and Meryl and Amy are strolling through the church gardens talking about Phillip... he's at a bigger church now, and has basically been promoted. Meryl then breaks down, wretched with guilt, and confesses that she never actually contacted any of Phillip's previous parishes, she made it all up to get rid of him.
- THE LAST GODDAMN LINE OF THE MOVIE IS MERYL WEEPING:
"I have doubts... I have such doubts."
SO HERE'S MY GODDAMN BEEF.
For the entirety of the film, Meryl is SO. FUCKING. RELENTLESS. She NEVER lets up for a second. It is exhausting. I hesitate to call that good acting, because in my opinion, PEOPLE aren't like that. They're nuanced. They falter. They second-guess. No one is THAT ruthless 100% of the time. And maybe that was intentional, so that it could all build up to that final moment where she says: "I have doubts."
BUT HERE'S THE THING??? The play/movie is LITERALLY CALLED "DOUBT." She should (in my stupid opinion) HAVE DOUBTS THE WHOLE TIME. The WHOLE time she should be questioning if what she's doing is right or moral or perhaps selfishly motivated. And we, as the audience, should SEE that struggle. If she thought she looked like she was showing her doubts, they were too subtle to notice. She was a fucking rhinoceros. She was a bulldozer. She was on Trump-levels of un-subtlety.
And obviously this isn't AS important because it isn't his bracket, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whom I adore, is equally one-noted. In the MANY productions I've seen of this throughout my *career* as a theatre student, I never saw a performance like his: where you were 1000000% sure that he did NOT molest that kid. ...And sorry, but that makes it kind of boring?? Like maybe he didn't do it, but we should at least WONDER. Otherwise it's just PURE EVIL against PURE GOOD and evil (Meryl) basically wins, and that's not a good or fair or interesting fight, and again, IT LITERALLY GOES AGAINST THE EXACT FUCKING TITLE OF THE MOVIE.
So I've always been disappointed by this production, because it's not the story I thought it was, and I don't like being let down by people like Meryl and Phillip. ...Amy and Viola totally lived up to my expectations though, they were flawless and I love them and they can do NO WRONG (shut up, I haven't forgotten about Julie & Julia, I'm just repressing it).
This brings us to our winner. It was a decision as complicated and complex as a prosthetic nose, but the winner of Bracket #10 is...
"THE IRON LADY"
...I feel weird about it too. Sorry.