Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Meryl Streep in Ironweed

Meryl Streep received her seventh Oscar nomination for playing Helen Archer, a very weary homeless lady alongside Jack in Ironweed. With hindsight and based on the Academy's love for Meryl Streep, her nomination for Ironweed could seem a very easy one but I wouldn't say that. Meryl didn't even get nominated for a Globe (which is stunning as they probably love her even more than the Oscars), she won no precursor awards and her movie wasn't that much of a hit, either. Moreover, with Sally Kirkland and Barbra Streisand campaigning tirelessly, Meryl's fair play behaviour could have seemed to take away attention from her. Nevertheless (thank God), she got her nomination for Ironweed. That being said, I think this might have been the only time when she was the fifth in the voting (OK, maybe also in 1998 and 1999). But who knows, when you get a nod without any precursor love that can mean a very strong support inside the Academy

Ironweed is an unbelievably great movie and definitely the best one that received a Best Actress nod in 1987. Hector Babenco's direction created such an intense atmosphere and the whole movie is so intense and wonderful. Each and every moment of it holds a punch for me. I was probably most impressed by it because I didn't expect to be. Jack gives a tremendous performance as Francis for which he easily should have won the Oscar. I strongly believe that it's one of his greatest works. He created a unique, unforgettable and haunting character and quite simply, I couldn't get enough of his acting. I was constantly amazed by his incredible presence and also the fact that he was able to put away his trademarks. 

And of course, there's the marvelous Meryl Streep. Although once it came naturally, nowadays I have a hard time calling Meryl Streep one of my favorite actresses. I always try to resist her and sometimes I really succeed, but eventually, I fall in love with her again and again. Yes, she might be a little too technical and calculating, however, once you get affected by her, you're lost. There are moments when I say "She's a magician, a genious." For instance when she starts singing as Helen Archer in Ironweeds. She's shy in the beginning and she gradually opens up to the audience until we get to find out that was just her fantasy. Besides the famous choice scene in Sophie's Choice, that's the best acted scene I've ever seen by Meryl. 

Meryl creates a suffering, weary woman who tries to escape somehow from the harsh, brutal reality of hers. The way Meryl displays Helen's emotions is just perfect: she doesn't overdo the tiredness and boredom of this woman, instead she makes her a very fascinating person. Helen dreams of being a star and actually, she becomes the star of this movie. Meryl is very often criticised for not disappearing enough into her character, however, I feel that this criticism of her is quite invalid in the case of Ironweed. Meryl Streep, the actress, is gone. There's Helen Archer and her life on the screen. 

Many people are arguing that Meryl's performance as Helen really belongs to the supporting actress category but that's something that I refuse to accept. True, she doesn't get lots of screentime, but the impact of Helen's character on the story is undeniable. In fact, for a while, Helen even takes the spotlight from Jack's character. For me the definition of supporting characters is that the movie and the story can work perfectly without them, they only make it more colorful. And frankly, Ironweed without Helen would be completely different. She probably embodies the dark life of Francis' life in which he gradually disappears. 

And Meryl plays Helen just like that: she often seems to be a ghost, a lost spirit who cannot find her way. Whenever she appears on the screen, her haunting presence captures our minds and souls. Once Meryl grabs you, there's no way to go. Meryl plays with the emotions so masterfully and it shows in this performance: she's incredibly disturbing, dazzling and puzzling (in a very good way). 

She adds so many layers to the character and she underlines them in short sentences or just one looks. Her scene in the church is just amazing and tells so many things about her character: she's basically a good person, she just has to make some "compromises". Again, the emotionality of the scene is just unbelievable.

I just cannot ignore her scenes with Jack, though. The good relationship between the two great actors truly shows: they make up an incredible couple. The way they are supporting and holding each other (sometimes literally) is just amazing. I really felt that they didn't try to outact each other, they were just really supportive. And this paid off: they really inspired each other to be better, to push a little further and try a little harder. 

SPOILER! According to a story, when they were shooting the death of Helen, Jack watched Meryl and he didn't feel her pulse. SPOILER OFF That's something I can easily believe: Meryl gave herself to this character so wonderfully, she was so committed to her that I couldn't have been more amazed if I tried. 

In an unbelievably amazing movie, Meryl Streep is unbelievably amazing as Helen Archer, a worn out, tired woman. She masterfully works with the emotions, brings the right amoung of commitment to the role and she identifies with the pain of Helen incredibly well. Not only is she wonderfully strange on the screen, but also really heartbreaking and disturbing. This unfairly rarely praised work of Meryl is just fantastic. 

What do you think? 

The conclusion comes either today or tomorrow. :) I don't know. Stay tuned.


Fritz said...

I'm not quite so enthusiastic but I agree that she was great.

dinasztie said...

Well, I was fascinated by her. :D

Louis Morgan said...

She was very good, but I did feel she was overshadowed by Nicholson.

mrripley said...

This is a perf i can never get behind,i though the opposite to you but we disagree,her singing bar scene was well done,i just feel she is supporting and robbed gish of a nod.

Walter Haggis said...

Grindingly slow waste of good talent.