In my theater theory class, we read a critical review of Meryl Streep’s most recent performances, specifically, “August Osage County”. We read two separate articles commenting negatively on this famous actress. Many have claimed that Meryl Streep is somewhat of royalty when it comes to her profession. The reason for this praise is because she makes bold choices in her careers and plays a wide variety of characters. The article we read in class made a controversial statement that she plays two roles in each of her films: the “artful drag burlesques” and the “relaxed diva charm-fests.”
Here is the mentioned article: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/feb/26/entertainment/la-ca-oscars-streep-20120226
Charles McNulty makes the argument that because she is so famous and has such a huge personality that she takes over and distracts from the film. While I understand this complaint with the actress, isn’t this relevant to all well-known actors and actresses, and not just Meryl Streep?
The reason why I understand his argument is because yes, when watching movies with a well-known actor or actress I will often think “oh wow, so and so is great in this role!” rather than just watching the film for what it is and detaching the actual person from the character.
This is one of the many interesting parts of “Her” when Scarlett Johansson plays an artificially intelligent voice. The audience never actually sees the actress, but many recognize her voice, and therefore make that association with the voice as a person. The film is about a man who falls in love with this artificial intelligence and the film raises questions about love, connection, etc. Personally, I thought having such a famous actress in the film was interesting in a beneficial way because it helped the audience believe that the protagonist was falling in love with a person and not just a machine. But at the same time, what would have happened if we did not recognize the voice? Would the movie have had the same affect? Would it be more intriguing to watch a man fall in love with a voice we do not immediately associate with a person?
In most main-stream movies, the audience recognizes the actor, or there is at least some awareness that another human being is acting out a role. That’s where suspension of disbelief comes in- for two hours the audience agrees to believe that this actor or actress is the character. The problem Charles McNulty then has with Meryl Streep is that the audience cannot distance the character from the actress. But in just the example of Scarlett Johansson in “Her” claims that this is not something that is unique to films starring Meryl Streep.
One of my good friends raised the question, “is this sexist?” Why did McNulty choose Meryl Streep over someone like Leonardo DiCaprio- another famous actor who plays a multitude of roles. Maybe McNulty has the same ideology with him as well, just did not put it in writing. The sexism I found in the article wasn’t that McNulty was saying Streep was too famous or well-known for these roles (as we see that’s something relatively common in the movies) but rather the first claim he made about her only playing two different parts.
For the “artful drag burlesque” he uses “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Julie & Julia,” and “Doubt”. For the “relaxed diva charm-fest” he uses “Mamma Mia!” and “It’s Complicated”. Putting the characters she plays in these films into these two categories is putting them into a stereotype. Many people into a stereotype in one way or another, even just the slightest bit, so it is understandable that characters have aspects of stereotypes as well. But the reason why this part frustrated me, and frustrated my friend who claimed this was sexist is because all of these movies and characters are completely separate, just played by the same actress, who happens to be Meryl Streep.
People are similar in real life, characters are similar, just as they are different as well. Each of the characters she’s played are going to have similarities because it is the same artist bringing them to life. Just as you look at a painter’s collection, you can most likely see similarities in the brush strokes. Meryl Streep is the same actress in all these films, but playing different characters. She has even said herself that she does not remove herself from the character, but rather finds where the character is in her own life.
So by saying that Meryl Streep plays two women only is saying that all these characters are the same. This claim puts down characters played by the same actor or actress, regardless of who they are. If you look at just about any actor’s line of work, there are most likely similarities just as there are also probably differences.
It’s difficult to watch a film with an actor or actress you are familiar with and try to really focus on the character and not the person playing them. But that does not mean that every character they play has to be completely different, or even completely the same, and Meryl Streep is no exception to this.