For as long as I can remember I’ve known the name Meryl Streep. While much of her acting prowess has been praised over the years, I was reluctant to watch many of her films because so many of them dealt with difficult or sad issues. “Kramer vs. Kramer”, “Silkwood”, “Sophie’s Choce”, for example. There were wonderful things said about these movies, but they were all so serious and sad. For me, I’ve had so much sadness and serious issues in my life that I usually try to avoid adding more through entertainment.
That said, I had long been aware that I was shorting myself in terms of watching a truly gifted actor; and watching her movies could also be akin to taking an acting class on some level. I’m not so sure that’s true after having read her biography written my Erin Carlson. Based on what I’ve read and understood it seems Streep is truly in a category all by herself. That’s not to say you couldn’t enjoy watching her for the character she portrays and then again for the technical aspects of her performance (if you could find them in her seamless performances). What is clear to me is that like a truly great artist in any field, Streep is one of a kind and you would be best to enjoy her, not necessarily try to duplicate her performance.
When I finally chose to see her in a film, boy did I pick a good one: “The Devil Wears Prada”. I was too busy to watch her performance, I was simply caught up in the film and all the characters, lead by Streep, who enthralled me and entertained me and made me so glad I had chosen this movie to break my existing status of having never seen her in a movie. I’m a fan of her work, and perhaps an even bigger fan of the choices she makes regarding roles to take. Having read a recent biography about her, I better understand why that is. Here’s my review for the book.
On the surface, QUEEN MERYL by Erin Carlson seems to be a book designed to outline her career, film by film, punctuated by a little bit of stage work. It is only through the reading that you begin to get a picture of the complex human that is Meryl Streep. Reading about her life and the transition from student to actor to mega-star, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the fact that she owes some of her initial success to being in the right place at the right time. If you read about her childhood, even a brief summary, it becomes apparent that she was destined to be a performer.
From that point, Carlson begins to outline each film as Streep moves from role to role, explaining her reasoning for taking the role, some of what she did to prepare for the role, and the finished product. All this is set against a backdrop that shows mere peeks of her home life; a happy marriage, four well adjusted children, and an individual who seems to have unflagging energy. In addition, when her behavior with younger, lesser known and experienced talent is discussed, she comes across almost like a zen earth mother who senses what the person needs in order to give the best performance both for themselves and for Streep, and then sets about pulling that out of them.
Woven throughout the book is the information that is now becoming more available about how women are treated in Hollywood and in the performing world in general. There is information regarding the money, where women make a fraction of their male counterparts. In addition, you get an insight into what Streep thinks about why the movies that are made are chosen, and why she chooses the movies she does. It all swirls around her belief, which is supported by a good look around the industry, that movies are critiqued by men, therefore made for men. Men dominate the executive offices throughout the industry, and look at production from that point of view.
In contrast, Streep has often chosen movies that are about women, for women, and which will have an appeal to a female audience. She has frequently created her character in a way that has astounded those watching, both for depth and insight, and the result has been richer, fuller performances all the way around. Even when she was in movies that were less than stellar, there are precious few negative things said about Streep’s performance.
At its essence, this book is both an homage to Meryl Streep and an explanation of how she has worked tirelessly to improve the status of women in the acting world. She comes across as an avowed feminist in terms of demanding equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work. If the films discussed in this book are any indication, she has had a profound and lasting effect on how movie executives see the viewing public. She has flexed considerable muscle, in part because she has had considerable talent to back it up. All this she has done while maintaining a home life that sounds like something many women would envy including a solid relationship, children who have grown into responsible adults, and a reputation that is unique within her chosen field.
This is an interesting book, on many levels, particularly for anyone who is interested in how the world is changing in its views of women. Meryl Streep has had a huge impact on that within the entertainment industry, and that is highlighted in the book. It is a fascinating look at a complex human being who, when all is said and done, seems to have succeeded because she chose to do the “right thing” rather than the “politically correct” thing. Put another way, she has lead by showing you can be successful and follow your principles at the same time instead of sacrificing them in order to get ahead.
My thanks to Hachette Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced digital reader copy in exchange for an unbiased review. The opinions here are completely my own.
So, for all my fellow actor friends, get this book, read it, then think about the choices Streep made when you are offered your next role. For all my other friends, get this book, read it, then think about the choices Streep made when you are trying to move yourself forward in your career and life. It’s interesting, it’s informative, and it’s encouraging. What more could you want? As always, Happy Reading.