Dir: Hector Babenco (Kiss of the Spider Woman)
Wri: William Kennedy (novel & screenplay)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Tom Waits
Synopsis: "An alcoholic drifter spends Halloween in his home town of Albany, New York after returning there for the first time in decades."
Wow. Where the FUCK to even begin. First of all, that synopsis is super fucking wrong. Second of all, WHAT AN ABSOLUTE UN-BANGER. Third of all, FUCK THIS ENTIRE GODDAMN THREE HOUR MOVIE IT MADE ME WANT TO DIE IT WAS SO AWFUL.
Okay, so this is based on a long-ass book by William Kennedy. It was his first major novel, and his first adapted screenplay... which is painfully obvious. He tried to squeeze the ENTIRE book onscreen, and it ended up feeling like watching a bad high school theatre production of what lazy parent volunteers think hobos look: distressed wool coats, twine for boot laces, patches and plaid, blacked out teeth, and EVERY PAIR OF FINGERLESS GLOVES IN HOLLYWOOD. ...I just realized that I literally described the exact aesthetic of 90s grunge, but BELIEVE YOU ME THIS was more like "Smells Like Jack Nicholson's Trying Too Hard" and "Meryl's Sleeping In A Heart Shaped Box."
Now for the quickest recap of a 3 hour movie you'll ever read!
- 1930s New York City: Jack used to be a semi-pro baseball player with a wife and kids, but then he accidentally dropped his 2 week old infant son on the FLOOR and broke his neck and he died, now he's a homeless drunk.
- Tom Waits is his fellow drunken hobo, and Meryl is his Hobo Girlfriend
- Jack has these "episodes," which are just dramatic flashbacks where he remembers times he accidentally killed people, like the time he was protesting unfair wages as a teenager and he threw a rock at a train conductor (Nathan Lane?????) and he DIES. Now Jack is followed around by the GHOST OF NATHAN LANE IN AN ALL WHITE THREE PIECE SUIT FOR SOME REASON.
- They all suffer through a church service to get the free soup offered at the end, then go to a bar where Meryl goes onstage and sings... she imagines herself to be very good, but then it turns out she sucks and her teeth are horrifying
- Tom disappears somewhere, so Meryl and Jack wander around NY, freezing. Jack sees more "ghosts" in all white three piece suits, following him around, so we know there are more murder-flashbacks to suffer through
- Meryl is freezing, so they go to her "friend's house," who seems to just be this gross old swinger couple that Meryl occasionally bangs so she can sleep indoors
- Jack is drunk and has another flashback, oh boy! One time he was a HOBO ON A TRAIN (you can tell by the PLAID and the HAY BALES he and the OTHER FINGERLESS GLOVE-CLAD HOBOS ARE WEARING), and these two guys are running away from cops towards the moving train and Jack helps one of them inside but the other guy gets shot and dies, bummer
- The guy Jack helped on the train starts being creepy about Jack's shoes, then pulls out A FUCKING MEAT CLEAVER (???) and tries to chop off his FEET to get Jack's boots, so Jack kills him.
- Between Jack's drunkenness and flashback-induced mania he is Not Having It, so he drags Meryl into the street and beats the shit out of her for being such a whore
- But then he starts yelling at her for NOT being a whore, because if she was they could made more money??
- He then drops her off at this abandoned car that she's clearly slept at before, and there's a DISGUSTING fat old hobo inside. If she gives him a hand job, she can sleep in the car for the night. WHAT A LOVING RELATIONSHIP YOU TWO HAVE.
- Jack wanders around town until dawn, ends up at this junkyard where a guy with a fucking HORSE and BUGGY goes around the city picking up furniture people don't want anymore. Jack asks if he can work for him for the day to make a few bucks
- Meanwhile, Meryl just wanders around the city all alone and depressed, falls asleep in a library, runs into an old acquaintance who asks her about her music career
- We learn that Meryl used to be a classical pianist on the radio, but then she sold her piano to pay for Jack's booze, and also something about her mom and brother stealing all her royalties?
- Meryl stumbles into a bar, then stumbles into a music store where she plays the piano tragically and beautifully before getting kicked out - without a doubt the best part of the movie, just her tweaking out over this piano, escaping her miserable life for one fleeting moment
- She then crawls into a church to chill for a minute, gives way too long of a monologue praying at some saint candle vigil thing, then sees a fucking tithing basket and steals all the $$, haha go Meryl
- She takes the $$ and goes to this motel where the owner clearly knows her... Her and Jack are living there? I think they couldn't pay their rent so they got kicked out and their suitcases were locked up, but with her Church Money she was able to get their room back
- OH YEAH, and Meryl has this TERRIBLE cough the whole time, and this weird thing where she can't swallow her food??? She's dying of something and it ain't good
- Meanwhile, back at the horse and buggy, Jack basically swindles the Garbage Guy out of a clean shirt and a few bucks for barely any labor, then he goes to a grocery store and buys a whole turkey, not sure what for
- Then he casually, inexplicably wanders over to this random house and knocks on the door with his clean shirt on and his turkey in hand
- OH LOOK, IT'S HIS WIFE, WHOM HE ABANDONED WITH TWO CHILDREN AND A DEAD INFANT LIKE TWENTY FIVE YEARS AGO
- AND SHE IS VERY, VERY CHILL??
- JUST LIKE YEAH, COME ON IN JACK, LONG TIME NO SEE????
- Billy, his other son, seems to live at home??
- Billy keeps referencing "bailing him out of jail the other day and inviting him over for Sunday dinner"??? DID I MISS THAT???
- I hate this movie so much
- Jack goes through the attic and finds an old baseball glove, plays catch with Billy's son (Jack's grandson)
- Cute baseball fatherly moment I guess, whatever
- The 3 ghosts in white suits have now multiplied into like 20 ghosts?
- He yells at the ghosts in front of his wife, she remembers that he's fucking crazy
- JACK FINALLY HAS A BATH THANK GOD
- His daughter comes over for dinner, yells at him for being a shitty dad. And honestly it's about time, it's fucking weird that his wife was SO happy to see him and that his son was basically just indifferent.
- After dinner Jack is basically like "yeah ok thanks for the grub, I'm gonna bounce, see you in another 20 years probably" ??!!??!!
- He somehow finds Meryl at the motel (how did he know she was there??) and she is FUCKING DEAD ON THE FLOOR, her goddamn not-swallowing disease KILLED her??
- Jack is like "yep I'm going back to drinking" and just LEAVES HER THERE?
- Bumps into Tom Waits on the street, they go to crash at some hobo village by the train tracks
- They're all chilling by their hobo trash fires giving repetitive monologues with the other hobos when suddenly the POLICE come out of nowhere and start ransacking Hobo Village??
- Tom and Jack make a run for it, but TOM GETS STABBED AND KILLED BY A COP??
- Jack just LEAVES him in the ER waiting room??
- THAT IS LITERALLY THE END OF THE MOVIE?????
I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN. This was clearly adapted by someone who had no idea what they were doing when it came to film, and I don't understand how the director, producers, and actors let him get away with it. It's one thing to read a book where the characters are saying things like "ain't" and "why I's oughta!", it's another thing to actually hear Jack Nicholson or Meryl Streep trying to say them through their embarrassingly bad hobo teeth and LITERALLY SO MANY PAIRS OF FINGERLESS GLOVES. Kennedy gave away ALL his emotional payoff in the first 5 minutes of the movie, when Jack confesses to the GRAVE of his INFANT SON WHOM HE KILLED and gives a TERRIBLE monologue about what happened - the antithesis of "show, don't tell." And while Meryl can usually redeem the shittiest of scripts, even she couldn't help with this one. She had one or two moments that were less terrible, but mostly it was pained, exhausting, schmacty over-acting. I've seen community theatre productions better than this.
Out of Africa (1985)
Dir: Sydney Pollack (The Way We Were, Tootsie)
Wri: Karen Blixen (novel), Kurt Luedtke (screenplay)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Malick Bowens
Synopsis: "In 20th-century colonial Kenya, a Danish baroness/plantation owner has a passionate love affair with a free-spirited big-game hunter."
Okay, before anything, I have to preface this with the fact that "Out of Africa" is a VERY PROBLEMATIC STORY. There were MANY points where I felt very uncomfortable, and could tell from the familiar, icky feeling in my stomach what was going on: white people were being fucking racist. It ran deeper than just good ol' fashioned "oh, but it was the 80s!" flavored racism, and I knew if I barely Googled it I could find the appropriate vernacular. As usual, the internet did not disappoint:
"THE COLONIAL GAZE"
That's exactly what the fuck it is. I just didn't have a name for it until now. The article "Celebrating Karen Blixen’s “Out of Africa” shows why white savior tropes still persist" by Abdi Latif Dahir does an excellent fucking job of articulating the deeply rooted problems not only with this story, but with the genre at large (*cough* GREEN BOOK?!?! *cough*). I am including an excerpt below, but please do yourself a favor and read the rest of the article here: https://qz.com/africa/1080410/out-of-africa-karen-blixens-kenya-memoir-is-80-years-old-and-80-years-out-of-date/
"To read “Out of Africa” is to read a string of loosely-connected stories that are mostly unified by one theme: the inferiority of the African being. Throughout the book, Blixen uses animal imageries and nature references to illustrate her points about the “squatters” who lived on her land. The Kikuyu and Maasai communities are called “primitive,” a “flock of sheep” who are “on friendly terms with destiny” and can barely plan for the future. ...Eighty years since the publication of the book, the colonial white gaze is still used to reinforce prejudices about Africa and Africans."
So, with that in mind, here is a VERY LONG RECAP BECAUSE THIS MOVIE IS THREE HOURS LONG:
- It’s 1913, and Meryl is a wealthy unmarried Danish woman who sounds like Old Winona Ryder from Edward Scissorhands when she narrates (not a good thing)
- Her rapscallion boyfriend dumps her, but then also like… transfers her to his little brother?
- She moves to Africa to marry her ex-boyfriend’s brother (Klaus) so she can get the title of Baroness and he can have her money, I guess?
- More of a business transaction than anything else, but Meryl does seem to be lonely and horny and kind of into him
- They were supposed to have a dairy farm together but last minute Klaus changes his mind and is like “nah now we’re doing coffee”
- All the Africans think it’s a bad idea because he’s planting the coffee in too high altitude
- Klaus doesn’t really seem into any of this marriage or investing shit anyway, he’s always leaving Meryl to go hunting (euphemism??)
- Meryl is bored and frustrated, accidentally bumps into a lion one day and Robert is just STANDING THERE HOLDING A GUN and Meryl is panicking and Robert’s like “nah let’s wait and see what happens” and then finally the lion leaves her and Meryl is like WTF ASSHOLE and Robert is like “she just wanted to see if you’d run away, she’s kind of like most people that way” OOHHHH, SO EDGY ROBERT
- Meryl is obviously smitten because he has a butt chin and put her in physical danger, which is unfortunately the weakness of all emotionally vulnerable women
- Meryl ends up having dinner with Robert and some mutual friend named Berkely
- “Tell me a story” Robert says, I guess he’s supes into stories
- Meryl tells lovely stories to them all night and there is ~ sexual tension ~
- Klaus goes on ANOTHER hunting trip (is Klaus gay??) and asks Meryl to send their servants with supplies for him
- She is LONELY AND HORNY AND WANTS TO SEE HER HUSBAND so she decides to bring the supplies to him, even though it’s dangerous
- She totally fights off lions in the wilderness with their servant-troops and it’s low key pretty badass
- She comes home and gets SUPER SICK
- OH NO IT’S SYPHILIS
- GODDAMMIT KLAUS
- Meryl has to go back to Denmark to get medical treatment
Okay, now here I have to interrupt again, because as memorable as Meryl & Robert's performances are (Klaus was also nominated for an Oscar, which is frankly a HUGE SNUB - and no surprise - to Malick Bowens, who plays Meryl's Butler, Farah), the REAL OSCAR SHOULD HAVE GONE TO MILENA CANONERO. Who dat, you say? THE GODDAMN COSTUME DESIGNER. You might recognize her work from such Bangers (TM) as:
And now I'm going to make you sift through 400,000 pics of Meryl's outfits from this movie because OH MY FUCKING GOD.
And now back to your regularly scheduled programming:
- Comes back to Africa CURED (WHAT ABOUT FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS???????? That was the same time period, how come Flo Fo couldn't get those damn Danish drugs????) goes to a NYE party with Klaus, has a sexy dance with Robert instead.
- So during all this business/failed marriage/coffee plantation shit, Meryl is also "helping" Klaus set up this English school for all the village children. It very understandably starts some problems with the locals, and Meryl does NOT FUCKING UNDERSTAND WHY. Thankfully, Robert is there to help Mansplain some basic racism to her!!!!
- What he says is actually spot fucking on, but 1) it falls on Meryl's deaf Danish ears, and 2) Robert doesn't really do anything to actually back up what he's saying, which is also problematic. Noticing a problem and complaining about it isn't enough.
- Everyone knows you also have to write about it in your BLOG OHHHHHHH #selfburn
- On the way home, Meryl finds Klaus’s new hoe’s undies in the car. Oops! Klaus is out.
- Robert swings by all casual and is like “get in loser, we’re going on safari”
- Tbh I’m still kind of unclear on wtf “safari” is?? Like it just seems to be a long ass road trip with LOTS of wine picnics?? Like he literally has a tablecloth and linen napkins and wine bottles and fucking flowers on the table. IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE IN AFRICA???
- He VERY SEXILY WASHES HER HAIR IN A RIVER.
- OH WAIT, SAFARI IS JUST A HUNTING TRIP EXCEPT WITH GIANT BEAUTIFUL LIONS AND SHIT.
- God white people are the fucking worst.
- They almost get attacked by lions one day, but SEXILY shoot them, because #WhitePpl
- Meryl tells him about the Syphilis, Robert pulls a Han Solo
Meryl: I had Syphilis
Meryl: That’s why I went home
Robert: I know
- After the lions, they have Another Sexy Dinner and then DANCE to the FUCKING RECORD PLAYER that Robert just CASUALLY brought with them
- Meryl pulls the CLASSIC “come to bed” move and says, “I’M GOING TO BED NOW” then dramatically touches Robert’s shoulder as she passes him LOL
- Safari ends I guess? Meryl is back home having dinner with Berekely and he’s like “MMHMM GIRL I KNOW WHAT U BEEN DOING WATCH OUT BOO ROBBIE’S A HOE” (direct quote), poor Meryl doesn’t even know when he’s coming back
- OH DAMN HE COMES BACK RIGHT AWAY
- Lots of slow, steamy boning under mosquito tents
- He stays over, they play house
- Meryl wants him to move in, he’s like “ahh shit but I’m a free spirit, yo” so they compromise and he just starts “leaving some of his stuff there”
- Berekely is dying of some kind of fever, turns out he’s been secretly boning his house maid who is a Somali woman… I think Robert and Meryl are racist????
- Oh yeah they’re definitely racist, they totally ignore his partner at his funeral. Why am I surprised.
- Robert comes and goes as he pleases, Meryl keeps running the coffee farm and playing nurse to the villagers. #COLONIALGAZE
- Robert gets a FUCKING PLANE and they go on a 20 minute goddamn airplane ride #taylorswift #wildestdreams
- Uh oh, Klaus comes back to the house while Robert is there
Meryl: Don’t you care that I’m another man’s wife?
Robert: No. What matters to me is that you tried so hard.
- Klaus comes back, wants a divorce because he’s got some new bitch he wants to marry
- This gets Meryl thinking about Robert...
Robert: What’s on your mind, dear?
Meryl: Klaus wants a divorce. He’s found someone new he wants to marry. I was hoping we could do that someday.
Robert: Get divorced? Hehehe
Meryl: *eye roll* What’s so wrong with marriage?
Robert: I just don’t see how it would change anything we have going on now, babe
Meryl: Some animals mate for life, you know
Robert: Yeah, geese
Meryl: No fair. You use animals in your arguments but you won’t let me use them in mine.
Robert: I’d mate for life.
Robert: One day at a time.
Meryl: I would just like someone to ask me, once. :(
Meryl: Would you promise to ask me, if I promise to say no?
Meryl: When you go away, on “safari”… you don’t always go on safari, do you?
Meryl: You just want to be away.
Robert: It’s not meant to hurt you.
Meryl: It does.
Robert: Meryl, I’m with you because I choose to be with you. I don’t want to live someone else’s idea of how to live. Don’t ask me to do that. I don’t want to find out someday that I’m at the end of someone else’s life.
Robert: I’m willing to pay for mine. To be lonely sometimes, to die alone if I have to. I think that’s fair.
Meryl: Not quite. You want me to pay for it as well.
Robert: No, you have a choice. And you’re not willing to do the same for me.
Robert: I won’t be closer to you or love you more just because of a piece of paper.
- I mean damn, dude, those are literally my exact feelings on marriage. #TeamRobert
- Things get tense for Meryl and Robert. She tries to talk about the farm and he gets bored. He tries to talk about his safari shit and she gets annoyed. She tries to mend his shirt, this is clearly far too intimate for him, shit gets real. #itsnotabouttheshirt
- Robert was almost gonna bring another LADY on safari with him - a lady he’s not even interested in sexually - but he doesn’t because he knows it would make Meryl sad, but this totally goes against his code and he’s feeling trapped AF
Meryl: WHY IS YOUR FREEDOM MORE IMPORTANT THAN MINE.
Robert: IT ISN’T. I’VE NEVER INTERFERED WITH YOUR FREEDOM.
Meryl: I NEED YOU.
Robert: No you don’t! You would live without me. You confuse “want” with “need,” you always have.
Meryl: My god, in your world there would be no love at all.
Robert: In my world there would be the best kind of love: the kind you don’t have to prove.
Meryl: You’d be living on the moon, then.
Robert: Why, because I won’t do it your way? Are we assuming there is ONE proper way to do this?
Robert: Do you think I’m going to cheat on you if I bring my female friend with me on safari?
Robert: So then why are we making this a thing?
Meryl: Because. I have learned something you haven’t. There are some things in this life worth having, but they come at a price. And I want to be one of them.
Robert: You have no idea the effect that kind of language has on me.
Meryl: I used to think you were the kind of man who didn’t want anything in life. But that isn’t it, is it? You’re the kind of man who wants it all.
Robert: I’m going, and if my friend wants to come I’m taking her.
Meryl: Then you’ll be living elsewhere.
Robert: All right.
- DAMN DUDE.
- In an aggressively heavy-handed metaphor, just when Meryl’s farm was finally starting to yield crops, it accidentally burns to the fucking ground.
- “The Baroness is broke.”
- Meryl is going to lose her land back to the banks, some Fancy New British Lady comes to take it from her
- Meryl gets ON HER KNEES (big deal) to beg the woman and the government dudes!
- They are all SCANDALIZED and beg Meryl to stand up
- Robert shows up (???!!) and is all like “GIVE HER A CHANCE”
- Meryl asks to at least let the indigenous workers remain on the land, admitting that the Whites fucking took it from them, and it’s only right that they get to stay on it when she leaves.
- Fancy New British Lady promises Meryl! Thanks, Robert.
- Again, while this seems like a brilliant “Aha!” moment for the originally snobby Danish Heiress, IT IS LITERALLY THE LEAST POSSIBLE GOOD THING SHE COULD DO. Her character doesn’t deserve to be sainted for that shit.
- I also must interject here, I haven’t mentioned the DOZENS of more subtle racist and classist moments Meryl has in this movie: making her manservants wear these clumsy white gloves when they serve her food, then yelling at them when they drop shit; bribing a local boy with a job in her house if he fixes his fucked up leg, then congratulating herself like a saint for giving him a job, then yelling at him when he doesn’t cook her favorite chicken dish but instead cooks something he knows how to make. It was gross, it was consistent, and it was wildly glossed over as a MAJOR CHARACTER FLAW on her behalf.
- Meryl has bankrupted her family fortune, and now is going to have to ask them for more $$
- Robert offers to help her.
- “No. I want to be worth something now.”
- She plans on selling all her shit, then going back to Denmark
- Her Butler, Ferah, is very sad - according to Meryl's character, it's because they're BFFS now, although who knows how the real Ferah really felt.
- Meryl is EATING ALONE IN HER EMPTY MANSION LISTENING TO ROBERT’S RECORD PLAYER WHEN HE WALKS IN WEARING A GODDAMN SUIT.
- She’s sent the rest of his things back to his place. Break ups are brutal.
*looks around empty mansion*
Meryl: We should’ve had it like this all the time.
Robert: Idk, I was just starting to like your things.
Meryl: And I was beginning to like living without them.
Robert: You’ve ruined it for me, you know.
Meryl: Ruined what?
Robert: Being alone.
- SOB FACE
- Robert asks to come with her to Mumbasa, before she goes back to Denmark
Meryl: Sometimes when it gets so unbearable being without you, I like to torture myself. So I think about every good time we had together, I go over all of them in my head. And just when I think I can’t take it anymore, I force myself to last just one more moment. And after that moment, then I know I can bear anything.
Meryl: Would you like to help me?
Meryl: Then come dance with me. One last time.
- Meryl is just packing up the rest of her things. Alone, surrounded by her books. Something is off. Klaus shows up. Robert is dead. He died in his goddamn stupid Taylor Swift plane, flying ahead early to meet Meryl.
- Fuck this entire movie.
- Before she goes back to Denmark, she stops by the All Boys Country Club of White Guys in Africa, who were mean to her when she first arrived, and they buy her a whiskey. Ugh, whatever.
- She’s about to get on the train. She looks to Manservant, and gives him Robert’s compass (most special gift ever). They say goodbye. She asks him, just once, to please say her name before she goes (he’s always called her “msuba,” i.e. “madam”). He says, “You are Meryl.”
- SOB SOB SOB SOB
- Meryl narrates some shit about Robert’s body being on a big beautiful hill surrounded by lions or some shit.
- OH YEAH AND MERYL NEVER RETURNED TO AFRICA.
- That’s it, that’s the fucking end of the goddamn movie.
...AND SO, THE "WINNER" IS:
But even based on acting alone, this wasn't a home run for Meryl. I found her accent SUPER distracting, even if it probably was spot-fucking-on. ...It was like Rami Malek's fake teeth and abominable wigs in "Boehmian Rhapsody." You should NEVER sacrifice suspension of disbelief on the altar of "authenticity." There's a reason we use the word "cheating" on stage and in film.
And speaking of CHEATING, next time you think about "Out of Africa," don't think about Robert Redford's undeniable sexual prowess, think about how an ENTIRE GODDAMN RACE OF PEOPLE HAS BEEN CHEATED OUT OF EQUAL RIGHTS, EQUAL OPPORTUNITY, AND EQUAL REPRESENTATION.