Monday, August 27, 2012

To me, you are perfect, and I love you very much. God bless you, God bless America.

Meryl Streep heard Jack Nicholas say the words of this post's title when she won the 2004 AFI Life Achievement Award. Most people I suspect agree with his sentiments. The actress has been nominated for 17 Oscars and 26 Golden Globes. She won 3 of those Oscars, which only four other actors have done (Katherine Hepburn, earning one more than that, has the most). Not only is she the most nominated performer at the Golden Globes, she is also the most awarded with 8 on her shelves. Plus so much more. Dr. Streep reigns as America's greatest actress. No arguing.

I wanted to investigate her career more to figure out if there was another feminine archetype other than Girl. The works I've chosen only include her recent films (New American Mythology), and I've avoided the more obscure movies. Now, I havn't seen all these so feel free to point out my short-comings.

The Hours (Paramount, 2002), Clarissa Vaughn

Girl - This complex movie is essentially about Girl archetypes desperately trying to define happiness (and along with it independance). Clarissa Vaughn struggles with the emotions she has for her dying friend Richard, even though she is a lesbian in a committed relationship. This makes her a Girl because even though she has the sexual freedom to choose her lover and other liberties, her life is not 'happy' but filled with anxiety. 

The Manchurian Candidate (Paramount, 2004), Eleanor Shaw

Cowboy (in The City) - An apparently disappointing remake of a 1962 film, The Manchurian Candidate is a conspiracy movie with Denzel Washington, Leiv Shreiber, and Meryl Streep. Streep's character has a total disregard of ethics, but still believes in America's potential. She uses other people for her own beliefs and gains without consideration of the others' lives. Hence a Cowboy.

The Devil Wears Prada (Twentieth Century Fox, 2006) Miranda Priestly

Cowboy -  Streep plays a influential executive of a fashion magazine. Andrea Sachs, the main character, along with most people in the movie perceive Miranda Priestly as cold and ruthless. Miranda does not care for others' emotions or aspirations, nor does sugar coat the truth. These ways have gotten her to the top of her business, but they have isolated her. In fact if she was a bit nicer and helped other people she could be a Astronaut. But that wouldn't make much of an adversary for our Girl heroine Andy.

Lions for Lambs (MGM, 2007), Janine Roth 

Girl (or Astronaut) - Streep plays a journalist who is told of a new government strategy to win the wars in the Middle East. She disagrees with the stratify, seeing it as political ploy. The scene here is after she knows the whole plan. The ethical implications of publicizing the story give Roth pause. She must choose to follow The Man's orders and spread the information as propaganda, or she can report the facts as a political manipulation of the military. The movie ends without revealing Roth's actions, but the story is presented in a positive (propagandic) light. We can suppose Roth decided not to fight back, seeing the repercussions a too great, and gave the story up. This would mean she's a Girl. Alternatively, if she decided to quit and get the 'true' story out on her own, sacrificing her security for the greater good. This would make her an Astronaut. But the story does come out, so more than likely, Girl.

Mamma Mia! (Universal Pictures, 2008), Donna

Cowboy? - This one is tough. The shenanigans in Mama Mia! actually aren't an epic story, but a fairy tale strung together with song. It's fun and quirky, but what is Donna? My initial reaction was to label her as a Girl, but she isn't struggling against The Man nor is she very conflicted. Well, her conflicts are inner emotional ones not ones that make her choose between having children or a career. She doesn't 'need' a man but she wants one.  Can I call her a CowGirl? Is that fair? 

Doubt (Miramax, 2008),  Sister Aloysius Beauvier

Zombie - Sister Beauvier is perfectly content in the Church's structure. So much so that she blindly follows the rules and acts only when she feels those rules have been violated. She does not struggle to live within the parish, nor does she live for her own success (that's why she's a nun). The Sister's strong beliefs eventually cause her to disregard the rules without any reason other than her intuition. So even though she's not trying to munch on the Pastor's leg, she 'eats away' at his resolve and reputation because her instincts tell her to.

 Julie & Julia (Columbia Pictures, 2009), Julia Child

Astronaut - Streep lent her talents to portray the heroic figure of Julia Child. The movie/Streep portrays Julia as a strong-willed woman not trying to fit into French culture, but instead embracing whatever circumstances she was in and making the absolute best of them. The chef had the gumption to follow her own interests, and the passion to share them with the world. She believed the knowledge of French Cooking could better the lives of cooks and eaters everywhere. Not only did she write a book, but she had a show on public television. She took American cuisine out of The City and into Space!! Bon Appetite!  [Julie on the other hand is quite obviously a Girl that happened to get lucky and got a book published. That part of the movie is actually quite dull.]

It's Complicated (Universal Pictures, 2009), Jane Adler

Girl - Jane Adler, a divorced woman, thinks life is finally going to straighten out and make sense when ! Complications arise! She's got two guys vying for her love, one of which she already made commitments to. She follows the path infront of her, but not without hesitation. Jane even confronts her therapist about the ethical implications of carrying out an affair with her ex-husband (making her non-Zombie). Eventually, she realizes she doesn't want her ex/past, but a new life. Her reluctance to say no to her ex makes her a Girl (not fighting The Man), as well as the complications and anxieties that brings about.

The Iron Lady (Film4, 2011)Margaret Thatcher 

Astronaut/Girl - This movie occupies an awkward spot in New American Mythology; it's a movie about a recent-ish British icon. Phyllidia Lloyd couldn't seem to decide between a biopic that focused on Margaret Thatcher's private or public life. If it had focused on the public life, she could have been an Astronaut or Cowboy (or the British version). The movie portrayed Thatcher's private life in a way that could have been Astronaut or Girl. Meryl Streep pulls both off well, which is why she won an Oscar for the role, but unlike Julie & Julia the director/editor/producers whoever couldn't pull off the dual storylines. It ends up being a stunning Streep performance in a mess of a movie that doesn't quite enlighten us on this public figure.

Hope Springs (Management 360, 2012), Kay

Girl - I havn't read or heard too much about Hope Springs. The Girl label here is just a conjecture.  Anyone watch this movie and want to have some input? Or how about the other movies? Leave a comment below.

I don't see any additional archetypes really in just Meryl Streep's characters. Maybe as I investigate New American Mythology further I'll find a neater title for characters like Donna in Mama Mia! or Margaret Thatcher. Please don't confuse these analysis of characters as an critique on Meryl Streep; clearly she can embody any of the archetypes flawlessly even when the directors don't know what they're doing. I think she's a self-possessed and kind lady. Even trying to poke fun at her makes you look foolish. So, in my book Dr. Streep reigns as Queen.

[Note: I left out Angels in America because I havn't seen it since it came out. The mini-series is too complex to analyze from clips on the internet. It wasn't that I was trying to downplay the importance or influence of the series, it was just that I knew I couldn't do it justice. Sorry.]

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