When we see her, sitting at the Oscars or the Golden Globes, smiling that mischievous smile at the hoopla and pressing of the flesh around her, she just seems good fun.
A few years ago Bette Midler joked, with mock-exasperation, that her message to Meryl Streep was: “Do you have to say yes to everything?” It may have been said in jest, but a legion of Hollywood actresses would have nodded ruefully in unison. La Streep not only can do no wrong, she is adored. The plum parts for women of a certain age are hers to pick. And here she is with her eighteenth Oscar nomination, a record for a performer, even though reviews of her performance in the movie August: Osage County have been mixed. Of her turn as the drug-addled and vituperative matriarch Violet, The New Yorker said Streep’s portrayal was “overwhelming,” and not in a good way.
But whether her loud, rancorous scrapping with Julia Roberts, who plays her daughter, is too overblown – better for the theater stage where the film began life, say critics, rather than the more confining movie screen – you can’t take your eyes off it. It is still a distinctive Streep-ian tour de force. It perhaps falls into the same bracket as The Iron Lady, for which Streep won her last, third Oscar playing Margaret Thatcher: amazing performance in a not-so-great film. Her scenery-chomping performance in August is in sharp contrast to that of another Oscar-nominated national treasure—the British Judi Dench—for her role as a mother searching for her lost son in Philomena. Both women are indomitable, but Dench’s Philomena is self-contained, quiet, determined not to cause a fuss, while Violet’s default setting is fuss-with-added-hellfire.