Friday, March 16, 2012

Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County

Three-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep received her tenth Oscar nomination for playing Francesca Johnson, a housewife falling for a photographer in Clint Eastwood's romantic movie, The Bridges of Madison County. According to some resources, this tenth Oscar nod marks the time when the talk about Meryl's third Oscar started, which continued up to three weeks ago when she finally won her well-deserved award. In 1995, however, I don't think she had much of a chance of winning. I suppose she might have got ahead of Emma Thompson but the fact that her mention was the only one for her movie and that she hadn't won any other awards makes me doubtful about it. That being said, Meryl has won so there's nothing to worry about! :) (I'll keep saying that forever so be prepared.)

There's that song which say 'the book of love is long and boring'. Well, so is The Bridges of Madison County. You know had I had a few shots of tequila and some valium, I probably would have appreciated the slow pace of this movie but alas, I was completely sober. The endless dancing and kissing sequences are really good tests of patients though I believe most people are moved by them. I guess I'm just too cynical. That being said, Clint Eastwood's a great director but he has a terrible sense of picking the right screenplay. Furthermore, his performance here is one of the dreariest things you can ever see on the screen. He's completely robotic, adds no depth to the character and I could go on. 

Meryl, oh marvelous Meryl. I'm not saying that I've only praised her, I've said some cheeky things about her but that doesn't change the fact: she's brilliant as she is. I think Colin Firth said it best at the Oscars when he told about how much Meryl raises the bar in each of her performances so it's always a little bit more difficult for the rest. It was one of those rare moments when a speech of praise was 100% honest and true. For these reasons, I was really looking forward to watching The Bridges of Madison County, one of Meryl most praised achievements.

In The Bridges of Madison County, Meryl plays Francesca, a seemingly unhappy wife with an accent who finds passion and love in her life once a mysterious man appears. It sounds quite a lot like Out of Africa if you ask me and to tell the truth, the two performances of Meryl are not that different, either. That's why it's incredibly interesting to me why the former is so often criticised but this one is quite rarely. The circumstances and the reasons for this women are quite different and yet they share a common goal: finding happiness on the side of a man who represents completely different values than she does.  

There's something strongly working against Meryl's performance as Francesca and that's namely her movie. It's so incredibly boring at times that you just wish something happened on the screen and try not to drop off instead of focusing on Meryl. And that also says something about Meryl's work here: with a really amazing performance you can make even a mediocre movie enjoyable (see The Iron Lady). Not being amazing doesn't necesarrily mean, though, that I'm not fond of Meryl's Francesca. I just feel she suffers from the same things that Michelle does in My Week with Marilyn: I see an actress in front of me that I'm completely in love with but an almost unwatchably boring film makes it harder for me to spot that brilliance that makes me tune in to their work. 

Other than that, everything that's moving and effective about The Bridges of Madison County comes from Meryl's performance. In a story with disturbingly one-dimensional characters, her Francesca seems to be the only one who's worth being paid any attention. Meryl makes it extremely easy to sympathise with Francesca and yet her dignity and grace prevents us from feeling pity for her. She really adds lots of depth to this character, making her wonderfully layered and exciting. Meryl created a vulnerable human being: whenever we see Francesca realising how unhappy she was and how unhappy she has to remain without the love from Robert. The screenplay was trying to save some time from the end, instead of leaving out the endless dancing and the useless parts with Francesca's children. We don't get to see her suffering because of the lack of Robert. However, Meryl, on her own, communicates some of her character's pain to us. Many of that comes from the usual unhappy middle-aged housewife character itself but Meryl avoided all the clichés with such characters: there aren't many theatrical breakdowns, she sheds some tears silently, which expresses the pain much more properly. She manages to save that bitter feeling to the parts with the old Francesca, which makes those scenes particulary effective. 

Meryl's chemistry with Clint Eastwood was crucial to the movie and while Clint Eastwood's work adds nothing to the success of the story, the only level his performance works is his relationship with Meryl's character. Then you can imagine how strong Meryl is at showing Francesca's love for Robert. They make up a typical tragic romantic couple but that's something that didn't bother me. Their love scenes and occasional arguments were felt quite realistic to me and I was quite convinced that these two people mean the world to each other. 

In the end, is it one of Meryl Streep's greatest performances as some may suggest? Definitely not if you ask me, otherwise she's wonderful and extremely moving in her part as Francesca. I don't see the brilliance that many others do but I see the effort and can completely understand why many people are in love with this work. Although she definitely makes Francesca an extremely realistic woman that you can easily relate to, it's just something that wasn't too hard for the marvelous Meryl Streep. Nevertheless, I cannot deny the fact that she really elevates her movie that would just dragging along without her. 

You're surprised, I'm sure. :) What do you think? (I wouldn't really like to read the words undeserved, The Iron Lady, Viola Davis, Glenn Close, 2011, third if you don't mind. Thanks. Lol) 


Cole said...

Well Great review, You express your feelings very clearly!
It's been a while since I saw the film, So I don't know but I'm bit suprised. In my memory, she was superb! but everything is subjective. It's great to read a lot of various reviews.

Anonymous said...

Well, we agree! I think Meryl gave great performance, but not really one of her best ones and movie strangely left me cold. I definitely think Stone and Shue are best in this category although Thompson and Sarandon were also very very good.

Louis Morgan said...

I am not so surprised she won't win, but possibly will be fifth is a little surprising. I have not seen her in awhile but from I recall she was good.

mrripley said...

I am in complete and utter disagreement,i feel with this review you have let the so called boringness of the film cloud our judgement without focusing on meryl.

she is most defintely my winner,everything the way she holds the car door when she sees robert in the rain,when she readies herself for her familys return,the way she waits for the door to bang when robert doesn't let it bang her body langauage is perfect,she way she tussles with him when she tells him he feels nothing,i am completely mesmerised by francesca because meryl made me believe that somewhewe in the usa was a lonely italian housewife longing for a love she let go.


agreed eastwood can be wooden but i enjoyed his perforamnce because of his meryl chemistry but hey each to his won.

keep going,i love these reviews.

dinasztie said...

The film always influences me. It was incredibly boring and Meryl could have done something about that. With a truly amazing performance no film is that boring. :) She was great anyhow, I liked her very much.

Anonymous said...

im sorry is the best performance of meryl streep.she must won this award.

Daniel from argentina

j said...

Oh when he drives away....gosh it hurts