Friday, January 22, 2010

Does Meryl Streep Deserve An Oscar for "Julie and Julia"?

Roger Ebert once said that if Charlize Theron didn’t win the Oscar for her performance in Monster than they should just retire the award. I would further that if Meryl Streep wins the Oscar for Julie and Julia they should just retire the award out of shame.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Meryl Streep. No, really, I do.

However,with the fervor surrounding her potential 3rd Oscar win for her performance as famed chef Julia Child in Nora Ephron’s Julie and Julia I feel it is necessary to rain on the Streep parade. She is capable of very great things but is often over-praised for mediocre works (Doubt, Music of the Heart and One True Thing). With the celebrated actress gearing up for her 16th Oscar nomination for her performance as famed the late, great chef and the deafening tune of her supporters claiming that now is the time for her coveted 3rd Oscar, I must let my anti-Streep flag fly.

Much of the rhetoric surrounding the campaign for Streep’s 3rd Oscar deals with her record number of losses. She has not won in over 25 years and is on an 11-loss streak (this is well over Peter O’Toole’s record 7 defeats). For every 7 or so nominations, Streep has 1 Oscar (this seems fair in comparison with the unfortunate Mr. O’Toole). The issue has more to do with the Academy seemingly blowing their wad with Ms. Streep too soon. She won her first Oscar for her supporting role in Kramer Vs. Kramer on only her second nomination and won for her leading performance in Sophie’s Choice three years later on her fourth nomination. At this point Streep’s ratio was pretty stellar.

Since then she has accumulated 11 more nominations but has been perennially passed over for baitier performances (Hilary Swank in 99, Jodie Foster in 88, Kathy Bates in 90, etc) or Oscarless veterans (Shirley MacLaine in 83, Susan Sarandon in 95, Geraldine Paige in 85, Helen Mirren in 06, Kate Winslet in 08, etc). This year, however, there seems to be no viable contenders for the actress as likely nominees Gabby Sidibe and Carey Mulligan are fairly unknown newcomers, Sandra Bullock’s reward will be the nomination itself and the 5th slot seems to be heading for recent winner Helen Mirren. Streep finally has the advantage.

Sadly, she doesn’t really have the performance to warrant an Oscar. Her Child is good but hardly a gripping portrayal as recent biopic winners such as Mirren, Theron and Swank . It is also questionable whether Streep is truly the lead of the film.
Last year the Academy saw through Kate Winslet’s thinly veiled attempt to campaign for supporting with The Reader, yet Streep is poised to score a leading Oscar with a performance that would almost undeniable, in most cases, be pushed supporting. This is Streep, however, and another supporting Oscar seemingly won’t suffice for an actress of her repute. This is not the same as her borderline supporting character in The Devil Wears Prada in which Streep’s presence dominated the film in every way and was justly nominated in lead. Here her character is confined to flashbacks and ultimately serves to further the trajectory of Amy Adams’ Julie Powell. When Streep is offscreen in Julie and Julia you really don’t feel her presence (however, Adams is so dreadful that you do beg for Streep to come back but that doesn’t quite create an omnipresent character).

I can’t contest that Streep is due for a 3rd Oscar but should the woman billed as “the greatest actress of all time” settle for winning in one of the weakest line-up’s in decades for a role that doesn’t even come within the top 20 of her best performances? Quite frankly, it seems a bit beneath her. So, if not for Julia Child, then what? The question that gets posed a lot regarding the frustration of Streep not winning a 3rd Oscar yet is “what does she have to do to be worthy again?” Quite simply; she must give the best performance of the 5 nominees. Something she hasn’t done this year (certainly not with contenders such as Sidibe in the mix).The last time she came close to achieving this in the Best Actress category was in 1995 with The Bridges of Madison County.

The Oscars have rarely been about quality. If they were, Tilda Swinton would have the Oscar in the bag for her performance in Julia (not to be mistaken with Julie and Julia). After the excitement of the Oscar race dies down, however, I can’t help but think that Streep’s win would end up being as maligned as the likes of Gwenyth Paltrow, Marissa Tomei, and Reese Witherspoon. Regrettably, there doesn’t seem much that can stop the inevitable win for Ms. Streep.