So, after MUCH debate and discussion, it was impressed upon me that pitting "Silkwood" against "Sophie's Choice" in the FIRST BRACKET was absolute insanity. Once I realized they were both over 2 hours long, I started to agree. I knew this might happen when I chose the bracket blindly, but hey, there wasn't exactly a PRE-WRITTEN BRACKET FOR MERYL MADNESS. For all these reasons, the bracket now stands as such:
Falling in Love (1984)
Dir: Ulu Grosbard (True Confessions, Georgia)
Wri: Michael Cristofer (The Witches of Eastwick, Gia, Original Sin)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel
Synopsis: "Commuting to Manhattan on the same train, two married strangers meet by accident and have an affair."
I never thought I'd have an opportunity to say this, but this was the most BORING movie about an affair I've ever seen. Back in ~theatre school~ we used to say, "Bad dress rehearsal, good opening night!" Well, "Falling in Love" was like the really bad dress rehearsal for "Sleepless in Seattle."
In the spirit of saying one good thing, I do commend the COLORS in this movie: rich, oversaturated, deliciously excessive and vibrant, everything you'd want 1984 to be. I want to say that's the cinematographer's job, but tbh I'm not quite sure? If you know please tell me, but in the meantime, shout out to Peter Suschitzky, a truly prolific and wildly talented DP and cinematographer who's work should be appreciated. (Rocky Horror Picture Show!, M. Butterfly, Mars Attacks, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis...)
Real Quick Recap:
- Meryl is married to Brian (David Clennon) and they have a pretty blissful, childless marriage
- Bob De Niro (I can call him Bob because we're such good friends) is married to Ann (Jane Kaczmarek) and they also have a seemingly blissful, albeit sleepless marriage with two young boys
- Meryl and Bob bump into each other (literally) while doing some last minute Christmas shopping at a book store. They end up accidentally swapping book bags and doing some excessively befuddled flirting.
- Fast forward a few months, and Bob and Meryl bump into each other (metaphorically) AGAIN, this time on the commuter train into NYC
- Bob approaches her and says "hey ur that chick I bumped into that one time" and she's like "yep" and that's it?
- But then they CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT EACH OTHER. Bob tells his BFF Harvey Keitel, and Meryl tells her BFF Dianne Wiest
- They bump into each other AGAIN and this time introduce themselves. Bob asks if she'll be on the train tomorrow; she won't be... but she will be on Friday! #itsadate
- They end up becoming fairly harmless Train Buddies, chatting and getting to know each other
- Meryl mentions that her dad (George Martin, but not the Beatle) is sick in the hospital, so he TRACKS DOWN WHAT ROOM HE'S IN AND CALLS HER ON THE HOSPITAL PHONE?? Like I GET it that having an affair must've been really difficult before cell phones, but HER DAD'S HOSPITAL ROOM?? Creepy, not cute.
- They basically just start having a standing lunch date once a week, and ride the train together every day, and OCCASIONALLY do some light making out, but that's it?
- Bob tells his BFF Harvey what's going on, and he's like "dope bro, if u ever wanna bang her just use my bachelor pad apt i have in the city!" and Bob is like ew gross no
- But then Bob & Meryl start getting horny and Bob is like "hey so i have this bachelor pad in the city..."
- They start making out at Harvey's bachelor pad but Meryl gets cold feet. Also, it would be really weird to bang in your lover's BFF's bachelor pad.
- They say goodbye on the train and it sorta feels like goodbye forever?
- It low key IS goodbye forever because Meryl comes home and finds out her DAD HAS DIED and she goes MIA for a bit dealing with that.
- Also Bob gets offered a job in Houston, and while he's telling his wife about it, he confesses he's "met someone..." she was a woman on the train, and they accidentally "became close," but nothing ever happened (which is true!)
- But Mrs. Bob knows better, and says, "No, it's much worse... you're in love with her." Then she VERY calmly just like make plans to go move in with her mom in Colorado until Bob "figures everything out"???
- Meryl tells her husband basically the same thing: she fell in love, it was an accident, but nothing ~happened~. He's obviously still not thrilled.
- Bob is packing up his house when he calls Meryl to say goodbye.
- Meryl RACES to go say goodbye but she gets STUCK behind a TRAIN in the RAIN.
- FAST FORWARD ONE YEAR or more like a few months actually but it's CHRISTMAS AGAIN.
- Bob and Meryl are both divorced and ~single~ and GUESS WHERE THEY BUMP INTO EACH OTHER AGAIN
- YEP THE GODDAMN BOOK STORE
- They make plans for "coffee" later??
- Like just go bone already??
- The end???????
Much like "Bridges of Madison County" this movie shows what it's like to accidentally fall in love, and because Meryl and Bob are VERY GOOD ACTORS it wasn't totally painful to watch. But here's where I have a hard time separating performance from story, because truthfully, this just wasn't very well-written. I don't believe staying in a miserable or even unfulfilling relationship just because you "should" or to "do it for the kids," but these people honestly had NO GOOD REASON for this affair. They were not in unhappy or even boring marriages, they were both doing JUST FINE and then randomly bump into each other - granted, three times, but still - and decide to make a series of little decisions that ultimately lead towards an affair. The first time they bump into each other at the bookstore: random. The second time on the train, when he recognizes her: I don't even consider that much of a conscious choice, he just remembered her from before and said "hey, we swapped books that once, weird."
BUT THEN HE SEES HER ON THE TRAIN AGAIN. And he CHOOSES to get up and say something to her, after ALMOST choosing not to. That was Choice #1. Then he asks her if she'll be there tomorrow: Choice #2. Meryl tells him she'll be there Friday: Choice #3. Then she MEETS him on the train on Friday: Choice #4. I can almost overlook all of these, but the real nail in the coffin is when Bob calls her goddamn father's hospital room: Choice #5, and it's Game Over.
In "Bridges," she's existentially unsatisfied, and the affair is - if not forgivable, at least understandable. Also, they have 4 uninterrupted days together. There's a sort of cosmic leeway, both giving them the gift of their time together, and also putting their experiences into a massive pressure cooker, forcing it to be more intense because of the restraints. "Falling in Love" has no such pressure, no force, no cosmic loophole. It's just two totally happy people living happy lives, who FOR NO PROMPTED REASON WHATSOEVER make a series of choices that they are both intelligent and self-aware enough to realize will lead to an affair - and neither of them are even really that bothered by it?? Like the play/movie "Closer," for example, sort of studies the same concept of the "unprompted affair," but it explores in DEPTH about the effects of selfishness and betrayal on both the cheater and the cheated. "Falling in Love" does no such thing, it merely scratches at the surface of these emotions, and it's certainly NOT for lack of talent: we're talking about Meryl and fucking Bob over here. I can only speculate it was in the interest of keeping this a lighthearted romance story, but again, the writer could've then at least leaned into it and employed some of the romance genre's better tricks: there was no grand crescendo, no big fight, no grand declaration of love, no bitterness, not even any tears (except for when Meryl's father dies). Meryl's running in the rain to say goodbye but her car breaks down, so Bob doesn't even get to SEE her all wet and pathetic, which we know to be a very effective trope. I was secretly hoping that Dianne Wiest and Harvey Keitel would at least meet and hook up, which would've been cheesy AF but at least would've given this story one other facet, albeit a tacky one. BUT NOPE, NOTHING. It was a weird, simple, flat, fairly plotless story about uninteresting people doing uninteresting things. STARRING ROBERT DE NIRO AND MERYL STREEP. What a goddamn waste.
As for the acting, I have pretty much the same thing to say: this was the Girly Meryl we saw in "Still of the Night," but with much less of an internal monologue. She was excessively giggly and... simple? Actually now that I'm thinking of it, she reminded me a LOT of "Florence Foster Jenkins" in that way, which blows my mind because 1) I watched that movie AN ENTIRE FUCKING MONTH AGO and 2) it should speak volumes to how dumb this movie was that we were channeling Flo Fo energy in a goddamn love story. Again I say: WHAT A WASTE. Maybe it's the same thing that happened with "Ironweed" and "Heartburn"... you'd think Meryl & Jack Nicholson would guarantee a knock out, but maybe too much of a good thing and all that talent cancels each other out.
Dir: Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Closer)
Wri: Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail), Alice Arlen (Alamo Bay, Cookie)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell, Cher
Synopsis: "A worker at a plutonium processing plant is purposefully contaminated, psychologically tortured and possibly murdered to prevent her from exposing worker safety violations at the plant."
OK I GET NOW WHY SOME PEOPLE WERE ALL WORKED UP ABOUT THIS MOVIE AND THE ORIGINAL BRACKET. WHAT A GRADE A BANGER. I thought I'd seen everything this 10 Trick Pony had to offer, then out of nowhere she comes at me with a whole new 11th Flavor: Scrappy Meryl.
But before I start GUSHING about her performance, we need to have a moment to gush about WHAT AN ADORABLE LIL DYKEY BEBE CHER IS:
Like it's giving me a real bad case of Idk If I Want To Be Her Or Be On Her, am I right? Yes, I am. Now here's that Real Quick Recap:
- Scrappy Meryl, Aggressively American Kurt Russell, and THEIR ADORABLE GAY BFF CHER all live together in a scrappy lil home in Oklahoma City, and carpool to work every day at the PLUTONIUM PLANT (why)
- Meryl is the girl who gets away with ~everything~ running from room to room to say hi to all her friends, blowing bubble gum, stealing a bite of everyone's food in the lunch room, getting the weekend off to visit her ex-husband and three kids, sitting on anyone's lap who will let her, and is literally NEVER seen without a cigarette in her hand
- She always gets yelled at to do "checks," which entails waving her hands by a PLUTONIUM DETECTOR before exiting each room in the plant
- One of her coworker friends gets "cooked," which is what they call it when you are CONTAMINATED WITH PLUTONIUM. She has to go through a horrifying "shower" to scrub her clean of contamination, and I'm sorry but ALL I could think about was the Child Detection Agency in "Monster's Inc."
- Prompted by her very real concerns for their safety, Meryl starts bringing some complaints to the labor board. They take her very seriously, but the big boss at the plant, Mr. Hurley (Bruce McGill), is downright pissed with Meryl's scrappiness, because the plant is like 1 million dollars behind on this project: making fuel rods for nuclear reactors... Now I know I'm a novice when it comes to nuclear power plants, but in my humble opinion it doesn't seem like something THAT SHOULD BE RUSHED?????
- To punish her, Hurley moves her to a new part of the plant to work with a SUPER RAPEY Craig T. Nelson doing something called Metallurgy or some shit
- Plan totally backfires, because it turns out Craig is doing even MORE totally dangerous and illegal shit, and Meryl is SCRAPPY and ONTO HIM
- Meryl ends up going to Washington to testify before the Atomic Energy Commission, and when she tells them the sneaky shit Craig has been up to - literally smudging out the errors on the photo negatives of the fuel rods with a goddamn SHARPIE - they ask her to get some proof so they can expose the plant in the NY TIMES
- This is a BIG FUCKING DEAL because I guess fuel rods go inside nuclear reactors and if the wrong kind goes in (i.e. one that's been LIED ABOUT with SHARPIE INK) it can MELT AN ENTIRE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT AND KILL LIKE A MILLION PEOPLE #chernobyl
- Meryl's hunky boyfriend Kurt thought that her activism was "cute" before, but now it's getting annoying
- Meryl is totally outcast from the power plant for being a ~snitch~ and Kurt hates that everything is ~changing~
- But all this activism is putting a strain on The Scrappy Gang and Kurt fucking DUMPS MERYL, probs bc he's threatened by her SCRAPPINESS
- Cher doesn't really give a shit at first, she's finally getting laid by some femme-bottom mortician/beautician and is just stoned and gay and adorable all the time
- But then Kurt leaves and even THEY start fighting, and it sucks :(
- So back at the plant, Meryl keeps "mysteriously" getting COOKED and has to go through a series of HORRIFYING DE-CONTAMINATION SHOWERS that are VERY FUCKING TRAUMATIC
- YOU BETTER BELIEVE I'M GONNA MAKE U WATCH THEM
- Due to the repeated "cookings," Meryl has to take these piss tests at home every day to make sure she's not dying of cancer
- Then one day she accidentally spills the urine sample at home
- She gets cooked one too many times at the plant and they have to conduct a search at her house, and GUESS WHAT THE FUCK THEY FIND
- PLUTONIUM CONTAMINATION AT HER FUCKING HOUSE THAT'S WHAT
- But because Meryl is so SMART and goddamn SCRAPPY she figures out it's because someone contaminated her URINE SAMPLE CONTAINER AT WORK so when she brought it home to piss in it and then spilled it, it got PLUTONIUM ALL OVER HER FUCKING HOUSE
- The Child Detection Agency (jk it's the Plutonium Asshole Agency) come and fucking DESTROY her house, it's super depressing
- Meryl tells them it's because she's been purposefully contaminated, but it doesn't even matter because they find it inside her anyway... meaning she's dying of fucking plutonium cancer :(
- However, this gives her an excuse to crash at Kurt's house again, and they make up, aww
- Low key still rooting for Meryl & Cher to just be gay together though??
- Anyway, the Energy Commission Whatever people are like BRO THIS SHIT IS SERIOUS NOW and so Meryl steals whatever she can from the plant on her way out and then is literally IN THE CAR SAYING GOODBYE TO KURT AND ON HER WAY TO MEET THE NY TIMES JOURNALIST WHEN SHE "MYSTERIOUSLY DIES IN A CAR ACCIDENT" AND GUESS WHAT THE FUCK
- ALL THE DOCUMENTS AND EVIDENCE WERE NEVER FOUND IN HER CAR
- AND GUESS WHAT ELSE
- THIS IS A TRUE FUCKING STORY
- OH MY GOD.
I obviously fucking LOVED Scrappy Meryl's performance in this. It was definitely the ~skinniest~ I've ever seen her, but it wasn't in a glamorous way... she looked thin the way women who work 75 hours a week and chain smoke 2 out of 3 meals look. She looked lower class. Which brings us back to that FASCINATING DISCUSSION about High Status. Meryl was such a BANGER in this because she 1) Believed in herself, and 2) Believed that EVERYONE ELSE would eventually believe in herself too, even though they VERY MUCH did not. She fucking Owned Her Shit. She knew what she was doing was RIGHT, and she never actually faltered in it - she struggled with how hard it was to CONVINCE her best friend, boyfriend, and boss that she was right. As someone who recently went through trying to expose a Really Corrupt Company that I used to work for (only *slightly* less evil than producing faulty fuel rods for nuclear reactors), I felt this shit HARD. Being a woman is hard. Being a whistle-blowing woman is even HARDER.
Meryl's unwavering depiction of a woman unapologetically fighting for something she believes in could've come across as trite, or preachy, or melodramatic, but it never did. She made Karen Silkwood real. She drank beer and smoked cigarettes and fought with her boyfriend and got in trouble at work and joked with her friends and poked her nose where it didn't belong and got away with everything... until she didn't.
Also, a brief rant about her voice: I know this will BLOW SOME AMERICAN MINDS, but I am NOT a fan of Meryl With An Accent. I don't care if it's impressive, it's irresponsible (and frankly lazy) casting, and it's almost always distracting. We mostly covered this in the Meryl Is Not Fucking Italian Bracket, but there is a DIFFERENCE between an *accent* and a *dialect.* An accent implies that English is NOT the character's first language, and for that, you should just hire a fucking actor with that particular accent. With dialects, I don't think it matters so much: i.e. a British or Southern twang. And of course, Meryl handles that twang with MASTERY and DIGNITY. It could've been so cheesy or self-indulgent, but it wasn't. This was a woman who truly wasn't very educated, but Meryl never had any ~judgment~ of her character. She treated Karen with RESPECT. And that makes the audience respect her.
I also can't stress this enough: THIS WAS A REAL FUCKING WOMAN. Who was actually contaminated and DIED under EXTREMELY MYSTERIOUS circumstances (her car was run off the road and they found Quaaludes in her system) and the case of her death is STILL OPEN.
There's no delaying the inevitable: the winner of Bracket #15, by a scrape and a scrap, is...