Jun 13
2020

We conclude our weekly series on Meryl Streep’s films of the 1990s, which started 12 weeks ago and was originally designed with the thought that our lives would have been back to normal 3 months later. Unfortunately this is not yet the case. To all visitors, readers and friends, stay healthy and strong. And enjoy a Saturday dose of “Music of the Heart” if your’e strong enough :-)

The combination of Wes Craven and Meryl Streep in the late 1990s seemed like the most far-fetched idea Hollywood could offer around that time. After all, Craven had single handedly revived the slasher genre with „Scream“, the following films in the franchise and countless knock-offs of who did what when during Summer vacation. Of course, Craven wasn’t new to the genre – he created „A Nightmare on Elm Street“ in 1984, significantly mixed horror cliches with humor and satire and became the „Master of Horror“ for legions of fans. So, what could he possibly be filming with Meryl Streep, if it wasn’t a part of Ghostface’s crazy mother? The story behind the making of „Music of the Heart“ is a prime example to never judge a book by its cover, nevermind how bloody or gory it may be.

“Music of the Heart” tells the story of real-life teacher Roberta Guaspari as she rebounds from a painful divorce and moves to New York with her two sons to start what’s become the hugely popular East Harlem Violin Program. “I wouldn’t have the ability to play the violin. I never would have even thought about it without the gift of that program,” she said during a interview with the Los Angeles Times prior to the film’s release. „“The only reason that I’ve fought so hard through the years is that I love teaching, and I don’t want to stop. The only thing that’s changed in my life now is that I’ve got 10 more things to do all the time.” Guaspari hesitated when Miramax Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein asked to do a feature based on her life, and then told her that a man known for horror films would direct the project. “I was really frightened, to be quite honest. It was like selling myself to have to put my life up on the screen. All of my friends and family said, ‘No, don’t let them do it,’ ” Guaspari says. But she is satisfied that Weinstein and Craven kept their promise to take care of her story, though it is one that presents a slightly warmer classroom atmosphere than the more disciplined learning environment favored by the real-life instructor.

Continue Reading

Jun 06
2020

„Dancing at Lughnasa“ remais a curiosity in Streep’s filmography, but a lovely one. Brian Friel’s play about five unmarried sisters in 1930s Ireland was a runaway hit after ist 1990 premiere in Dublin and later London, winning the Olivier Award for Best Play, followed by its transition to Broadway the next year and winning the Tony for Best Play and a Best Featured Actress award for Brit Brennan. But besides its success on the stage, „Lughnasa“ was never a dead-ringer to become a box office hit in theatres. Streep’s casting secured the film an international spotlight and decent reviews, but it struggled to find a mainstream audience. Today, „Dancing at Lughnasa“ reigns among Streep’s fine work in the 90s, but is often forgotten to be mentioned at all.

Friel’s story explores themes which were central to Irish cinema and to Irish culture more generally in the 20th century, namely, emigration; the position of women in Ireland (rural) society, including illegitimacy, being unmarried and working at backbreaking labour; the relationship between the legacy of popular ‘pagan’ religious practice and the institutional church; and the point-of-view of a young boy recalling his childhood and the events which formed him. In 1936, five sisters live in quiet desperation in the small town of Ballybeg in Donegal.The eldest sister, Kate, a local schoolteacher is a woman of rigid beliefs. On the surface she is a formidable woman,a little feared but deeply loved by all of her sisters, especially Maggie, who has a kind benevolent heart, a wicked sense of humour and a wild fondness for life. Agnes is a quiet, deep woman with secret reserves of courage. She is devoted to Rose, who is simple, frightened of no danger because she does not know any. Rose has embarked on a relationship with a local married man, Danny Bradley much to the concern of her sisters. Christina, the youngest, has defied the strict morality of her society and given birth to a love child, Michael. All of their lives are thrown into turmoil by the re-emergence of two men. The first is their brother Father Jack, a missionary long lost to the ways of African culture who has returned home. The second man is Gerry Evans, Michael’s father – a Welsh travelling salesman who sweeps in and out of Christina’s life as if he had no cares or responsibilities in the world. He has returned to see his son and to stir Christina’s emotions up once more before leaving to fight in the Spanish Civil War. The impending arrival of a woollen factory threatens what paltry income Agnes, Rose and Christina earn from knitting gloves and falling school numbers leaves Kate without a job. As the oldest sister, Kate feels responsible to keep the family dynamics together, in the most stubborn way possible.

Continue Reading

May 30
2020

Only three films remain for our coverage of Streep in the 1990s. All three fall into the category „films that wouldn’t be made today“ or “there wouldn’t be an audience at all”. Truth to the bold, it’s a miracle these films were released theatrically in the 1990s anyway, was it not a testament to Streep’s star power to greenlight projects about cancer, dancing sisters in Ireland and music teachers. Such is the case for „One True Thing“, which, on the outside, looks like a movie-of-the-week on Lifetime, a problem film for the privilegded white, or a film about noble housewives whose equally invested into flower arrangements as she is into her illness. But as the film looms on you with beautifully photographed scenery, it cuts deep – and reminds you why Streep has been recognized as one of the best character actresses of her time. In „One True Thing“, Streep delivers one of her most touching performances of the decade.

Continue Reading

May 23
2020

A deeply personal story from America’s funniest director sheds light on a family’s struggle with a child’s epilepsy and the American healthcare system. In one of her rare appearances on television, Meryl Streep plays a tiger mother going to lenghts to find a miracle that can cure her sick child.

I don’t think any director has made us laugh more in the 1980s and 1990s than Jim Abrahams, best known as a member of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker team that brought us “Airplane”, “Top Secret”, “Ruthless People” and “The Naked Gun” series. But Abrahams’ private life took a serious turn when his young son was diagnosed with epilepsy. Charlie would convulse and lose consciousness. Medications didn’t help. As his seizures continued, his cognitive abilities slowly deteriorated. Jim, who wasn’t a medical doctor, decided to start investigating alternative treatments. After days in the library looking through books and medical journals, he found a book on childhood epilepsy written by Dr. John Freeman, the director of the Pediatric Epilepsy Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The book described that a diet that mimics the metabolism of starvation by cutting most dietary sources of carbohydrates and proteins could in some cases cure drug-resistant childhood epilepsy. Ignoring the warnings of the staff at the boy’s hospital, Jim transferred his son to the epilepsy center in Maryland, and Charlie was started on the diet. The young boy immediately showed improvements in his condition, and a couple of years later he became seizure free. Even the mental setback turned out to be reversible.

Continue Reading

May 19
2020

Brace yourself for Meryl Streep’s best performance of the year – if not the decade! (we’re quite early into the decade, I know). She has joined director Taika Waititi, who is partnering with the Roald Dahl Story Company to read the beloved children’s novel “James and the Giant Peach” across ten installments. This star-studded reading of James and the Giant Peach is part of a campaign to raise funds for the global health non-profit Partners in Health, which is tackling the Covid-19 pandemic in some of the most vulnerable communities around the world. The Roald Dahl Story Company has announced that it will match donations up to $1 million to charities impacted by the global health crisis, such as the Roald Dahl Marvellous Children’s Charity in the UK. The first two installments are both available to watch now, with remaining episodes to be released on the Roald Dahl YouTube channel every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In the second episode, Meryl and former co-star Benedict Cumberbatch take on the roles of evil sisters Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. You won’t find anything more entertaining to watch right now, so sit back and enjoy.

May 19
2020

Some of the brightest stars from Broadway and Hollywood came together last night, May 18, to celebrate Covenant House, the international charity providing housing, food and healthcare to children and youth facing homelessness in 31 cities across six countries. Funds from the benefit concert are helping Covenant House COVID-19 relief efforts to provide more food, more supplies, and to continue to provide staffing to care for sick and symptomatic youth. To donate to #endyouthhomelessness, visit safeplacetosleep.org.

In 2019, the talented cast of BKLYN: The Musical reunited for one night only for a 15th anniversary reunion concert to benefit Covenant House. The show follows a group of homeless musicians known as the City Weeds who transform a street corner under the Brooklyn Bridge into their play space. The cast – Quentin Earl Darrington, Eden Espinosa, Ramona Keller Karen Olivo, Julie Reiber, Will Swenson, and Caren Tackett – reunited once again (virtually) to perform the show’s anthem to empathy, “Heart Behind These Hands” Their performance was coupled with Covenant House alumni testimonials read by Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep.

May 16
2020

In maybe her best performance of the 1990s, Meryl Streep leads a powerhouse ensemble cast that brings together the best of three acting generations – Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Hume Cronyn, Gwen Verdon and Leonardo DiCaprio. “Marvin’s Room” is a bittersweet drama about family, the pain it causes and the effort it takes to keep it together. Although it deals with illness, death and lost chances in life, “Marvin’s Room”‘s dry humor and fantastic acting makes it one of the most pleasent and truthful dramedies of its time.

Scott McPherson, the young playwright who wrote “Marvin’s Room”, didn’t life to see the big screen adaptation of his work. Described as “one of the brightest hopes of the Chicago theatre scene”, “Marvin’s Room” was McPherson’s last completed work and only his second full-length play before he died of AIDS-related causes in 1990, at only 33 years of age. His play premiered at the Goodman Studio Theatre in 1990 and went on to national acclaim, first at the Hartford Stage Company in Connecticut and eventually at Playwrights Horizons and the Minetta Lane Theatre off-Broadway. It won the 1992 Outer Critics Circle Award for best play, the 1992 Drama Desk Award for best play and locally the Joseph Jefferson Award for original work, among other honors. “Marvin`s Room,” about a woman battling leukemia and the unusual extended family with whom she struggles for support and dignity, is a slightly dark but comic and ultimately hopeful take on death and infirmity. The title character is an elderly, bedridden stroke victim glimpsed thoughout only through a wall of glass blocks. McPherson had completed the screenplay for “Marvin’s Room” when he died. His identity and struggle is not just background info, as it’s almost impossible to watch the film, which concerns various approaches to love and death, without realizing its particular AIDS message, as well as more universal values, such as caring for others and the strength of family bonds.

Continue Reading

May 09
2020

After receiving critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination for “The Bridges of Madison County”, Meryl Streep revived the rather unfamiliar thriller territory, playing a mother whose son is accused of murder. But if there’s one word to not describe Barbet Schroeder’s “Before and After”, it would be “thrilling”.

Director Barbet Schroeder had a lucky streak in the early 1990s with decent, intelligent thrillers. The “Barfly” director did the masterful “Reversal of Fortune” in 1990, winning Jeremy Irons an Oscar for his portrayal of Claus von Bülow (and should have won a second award for Glenn Close’s riveting performance). He continued with “Kiss of Death”, the erotic thriller “Single White Female” starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and made great thrillers after this one – “Desperate Measures” and “Murder by Numbers” among them. Schroeder was a director to work with, one that actors adored – Irons recommended him to Streep when the script for “Before and After” arrived. The story sounded promising. Well-respected parents of a small town – the father an sculptor, the mother a doctor – must come to terms with the fact that their son’s girlfriend was murdered, and their son is on the run. When he is caught and awaiting trial, they share the family’s dinner table with him, uncertain if he’s still their little boy or a cold-blooded killer. Streep shares the screen with Liam Neeson, fresh off his star-making turn in “Schindler’s List”, and Edward Furlong, in a first serious role since his own star-making turn in “Terminator 2”. Backed up by a supporting cast of Alfred Molina and John Heard and a screenplay adaptation by “The Silence of the Lambs”‘ Ted Tally – what could go wrong with “Before and After”? Well, pretty much everything.

Continue Reading

May 02
2020

In the mid-90s, Meryl Streep’s career was revitalized by a most unlikely leading man and director. Clint Eastwood – Western hero, movie star, director and America’s man’s man – turned Robert James Weller’s kitschy best-selling novel into a tender box office hit for grown ups. Fresh off his multiple Academy Awards wins for “Unforgiven”, Eastwood took over directing duties from Steven Spielberg after being cast in the male lead – and stood by his casting choice that was unheard of in Hollywood – casting a 45-year-old woman to play a 45-year-old woman.

Robert James Waller’s novel (called “arguably the world’s longest greeting card” by the New York Times) about the four-day love affair between a travelling professional photographer who had come to Madison County, Iowa, and a Italian-American housewife whose family was way, was optioned by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment before its publication in 1991 – by the time of the film’s release, the novel sold 9.5 million copies worldwide. Spielberg wanted to produce the film with Amblin and first asked Sydney Pollack to direct, who got Kurt Luedtke to draft the first version of the adaptation but then bowed out. After a second draft by Ronald Bass fell through, a third draft of the script by Richard LaGravenese was liked by Eastwood, who quite early had been cast for the male lead, and by Spielberg, who liked LaGravenese’s version enough to consider making Bridges his next film after “Schindler’s List”, which was in post-production at the time. Both men liked that LaGravenese’s script presented the story from Francesca’s point of view. Spielberg then had LaGravenese introduce the framing device of having Francesca’s adult children discover and read her diaries. Somewhere along the road, Spielberg decided not to direct it after all, and after his next best choice Bruce Beresford dropped out as well, Eastwood decided he could direct it as well. His last directorial effort, “Unforgiven”, won him two Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture, as well as a Best Actor nomination.

Continue Reading

Apr 27
2020

Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald wowed on Sunday night during an online concert celebrating the 90th birthday of legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim. Appearing from their respective homes in their bathrobes, the actresses performed a spot-on and hilarious rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Sondheim’s 1970 musical “Company” – complete with swigs from wine goblets and cocktail glasses (and in Streep’s case, directly from the bottle). The actresses seemed to relish the “I’ll drink to that” refrain from the classic tune, which was first performed by Elaine Stritch on Broadway (and more recently by Patti LuPone in a revival that was due to open this month before the coronavirus pandemic shut down Broadway theaters). The trio joined a host of Tony-winning luminaries for the online event, including Neil Patrick Harris, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Josh Groban, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Alexander and even Steven Spielberg (who didn’t sing but gave an online shout-out to Sondheim). Tony winner Raúl Esparza helped organize the event to raise money for Artists Striving to End Poverty), which generated donations through the Broadway.com YouTube channel. Drama Desk Award winner Mary-Mitchell Campbell served as music director for the concert, with Paul Wontorek directing. Watch the full “The Ladies Who Lunch” performance above. You can also check out the full two-hour-plus concert, “Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration,” here.