Highest Rated: 100%Everybody Knows... Elizabeth Murray (2017)
Lowest Rated: 27%Lions for Lambs (2007)
Birthplace: Summit, New Jersey
Sydney Pollack -- one of Meryl Streep's collaborators time and again -- once proclaimed her the most gifted film actress of the late 20th century. Most insiders would concur with this assessment. To avid moviegoers, she represents the essence of onscreen dramatic art. Like Hoffman (and De Niro), she demonstrates a transcendent ability to plunge into her characters and lose herself inside of them, transforming herself physically to meet the demands of her roles. A luminous blonde with nearly translucent pale skin, intelligent blue eyes, and an elegant facial bone structure, Streep sustains a fragile, fleeting beauty that allows her to travel the spectrum between earthily plain (Ironweed), and ethereally glamorous and radiant (Manhattan, Heartburn).Born June 22, 1949, in Summit, NJ, Streep took operatic voice lessons, and subsequently cultivated a fascination with acting while she attended Bernards High School. Upon graduation, Streep studied drama at Vassar, Dartmouth, and Yale, where she appeared in 30 to 40 productions with the Yale Repertory Theater. With a five-star education and years of collegiate stage work under her belt, Streep headed for the New York footlights and launched her off-Broadway career. Streep's performance in Tennessee Williams' 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, for which she received a Tony nomination, constitutes a particularly strong theatrical highlight from this period. She made her television debut in Robert Markowitz's The Deadliest Season (1977). That year she also appeared onscreen for the first time in Fred Zinnmann's Julia (1977) as Anna Marie, opposite heavyweights Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, and Hal Holbrook. The following year, Streep picked up an Emmy for her performance in Marvin J. Chomsky's miniseries Holocaust. She first teamed with De Niro in Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (1978).Around this time, Streep became involved with the diminutive performer John Cazale, whom she met on the set of the Cimino film. Tragically, this marriage was ill-fated from day one, Cazale's frail body ridden with bone cancer. Forty-two at the time, he passed away in March 1978, nine months prior to the premiere of The Deer Hunter. Streep later wed Don Gummer, who was not associated with Hollywood in any capacity.Streep next appeared as Woody Allen's ruthless lesbian ex-wife in his elegiac comedy drama Manhattan (1979) and Alan Alda's Southern mistress in the scathing political satire The Seduction of Joe Tynan. Her shattering interpretation of the scarred and torn Joanna Kramer opposite Dustin Hoffman in Robert Benton's heartbreaking divorce saga Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1980 -- which she famously left on top of a toilet at the festivities -- alongside a plethora of L.A. Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Circle, and Golden Globe Awards for the Allen, Benton, and Alda films.Streep continued her ascent over the next decade by establishing herself as Hollywood's top box-office draw and a critical darling. Her double performance in the innovative Karel Reisz/Harold Pinter triumph The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), her gut-wrenching interpretation of the titular Holocaust survivor in Alan J. Pakula's haunting adaptation Sophie's Choice (1982), and her thoughtful evocation of Karen Silkwood in Mike Nichols' drama Silkwood were highlights of the period. In the latter, she portrays a real-life victimized nuclear-plant worker who mysteriously disappears just prior to turning in crucial evidence against her employers.Streep's decision to headline Sydney Pollack's lush epic Out of Africa (1985), as Karen Blixen, sustained her reputation. She would go on over the next decade to appear in projects like but Ironweed, Heartburn, She-Devil, Postcards from the Edge, and Death Becomes Her. In 1994, she again surprised her fans when she appeared as a muscular expert whitewater rafter who must fight a raging river and two dangerous fugitives to save her family in the ac
The new film Manchester by the Sea is this year’s critical darling. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, Margaret) the film is, according to critics , “an achingly graceful, heartfelt, working-class story about loss, grief, and family obligations” as well as “a deeply affecting chamber piece that features an outstanding performance by Casey Affleck.”
It’s also an overrated film that gets male grief wrong. (Spoiler alert: I’m going to be revealing key plot points and final scenes).
In Manchester by the Sea, Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Ocean’s Eleven) plays Lee Chandler, a Boston janitor and apartment building superintendent who is forced by his brother’s death to return to his North Shore hometown. Lee is suffering deeply from grief, the result of losing two children in a house fire that he is responsible for causing. When Lee’s brother Joe dies in his early forties and leaves behind a teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Lee suddenly finds himself the boy’s guardian.
Manchester by the Sea suffers from what I call Forrest Gump Syndrome. It’s a film where the lead character never changes, leading to narrative inertia. Lee Chandler is a zombie, a man so debilitated by sorrow and regret that he can’t even sustain a basic conversation. For the first thirty minutes or so of the film, this works. Affleck shuffles around, mumbling through repair jobs and getting into bar fights, which somehow manage to seem languid. Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes captures the duality of New England in winter, a place both gray and depressing yet also coldly beautiful. But then it’s an hour into the film and Lee’s mood hasn’t changed. At all.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is of being afraid.” That’s how C.S. Lewis opens his book, A Grief Observed, and it’s what’s missing from Manchester by the Sea. Grief can not only make someone sullen and sluggish, but also anxious and aggressive. It can be a difficult feeling to conquer, especially for men, who are less verbal than women. This aspect of men’s emotional lives was expertly dramatized in Good Will Hunting, another, superior film about a young man in Boston processing grief. Although that film was also set among members of the Boston Irish working class, its script revealed its characters to be wounded yet able to articulate their anger. Therapist Sean Maguire, so memorably played by Robin Williams, provided the story arc of the film, a slow unfolding of the psyche of Will Hunting (Matt Damon). In the unforgettable climax of the movie, Will, a victim of abuse, is confronted with a fierce truth: “It’s not your fault.” Finally, the wall of fear, anger, and pain breaks, and Will weeps.
Many critics are praising Manchester by the Sea for its realism, but Good Will Hunting is actually the more realistic film. In Manchester, Affleck doesn’t act grief-stricken so much as somnolent. While grief can make one feel broken (“I feel concussed,” Lewis wrote), there’s also a buzzing anxiety to it, a mental thrashing about. Grief is active; it likes to prod and provoke. It searches for relief. One of the most unbelievable scenes in Manchester occurs when, through his nephew Patrick, Lee meets an attractive single mother. The woman is obviously interested in Lee, and invites him in for a beer. At first Lee declines, but after more prodding he agrees. For an agonizing ten minutes, Lee sits and refuses even to make small talk.
Despite the praise for Affleck, he is overacting here, and the movie suffers. (Lucas Hedges’ funny and dynamic portrayal of Patrick almost steals the movie from Affleck). Having the ear of a sympathetic woman is a perfect moment to have Lee explore his pain. Like Good Will Hunting, Manchester could use such opportunities to chart Lee’s progress from a completely closed off man to one confronting the terrible tragedy that drew him into this vortex. Unfortunately, the tone of the film, from the cracked dialogue to the wintry cinematography to the general despair, is more suited to a story about hopelessness—William Kennedy’s great novel, Ironweed, comes to mind.
This is not a plea for movies that depict only sunshine and froth, but for a story arc and a realistic depiction of the phenomenon being explored. Even if a dude won’t go to a therapist, we can usually find an outlet with our friends. Had Lee just opened up to a bartender it would have created at least some small break in the gloom, a crack in the walking dead mood we get for two hours.
During the final scene of Manchester by the Sea, I actually laughed out loud. Lee and Patrick are walking up a gentle hill after attending a funeral, tossing a small rubber ball back and forth. Lee tosses the ball to Patrick, who drops it. “Just let it roll downhill,” Lee mutters, still lost in his storm cloud. Long before that scene, Lee—and the movie—felt as if it had already sunk under the weight of its own sadness. The dreary mood had been so relentless for so long that in its final moments the film tipped into satire. It ended not as Good Will Hunting or Ironweed, but as Debbie Downer.