Sometimes The Onion‘s stories and editorials are pointed satire and sometimes they’re just goofy conceits and absurdities. The much-discussed fake Meryl Streep editorial is something else. In it, “Streep” bemusedly points out that despite her reputation as one of America’s best actresses, she’s never owned a flat-out masterpiece. If you rewrote it not in Streep’s voice, there’s actually no joke; it’s actually just kind of a curious thing someone picked up on. She accurately describes “The Deer Hunter” as “overrated” and moans about her luck with directors: “The annoying thing about all of this is that I’ve worked with directors who have produced some of the finest films in American cinema. I’m just not in any of them. I do a movie with Robert Altman, but it’s ‘A Prairie Home Companion.’ Mike Nichols calls me up, not for ‘Carnal Knowledge,’ but ‘Heartburn.'” True and true. (Nichols also called her up for “Silkwood,” which is a case in point.)
Over at Hollywood Elsewhere, Jeffrey Wells took the link and provided a supplementary list of great movies associated with great actors: Al Pacino in “The Godfather.” Gene Hackman in “The French Connection.” Ellen Burstyn in “The Exorcist.” (Really? Okay.) But I find it interesting that the one exception “Streep” and Wells bring up — “Manhattan” — doesn’t count because she wasn’t the lead. It’s weird reasoning to me. (And personally I’d go with “Adaptation.” over that, but that’s another matter.)
There are plenty of terrific actors who never got that one classic movie/lead role on their résumés. (The opposite of that approach would be Streep’s late fiancé John Cazale, who made five widely beloved classics, then promptly died prematurely young and tragically.) Then again, how many actors actually get that opportunity? Especially if being an integral part of an ensemble cast doesn’t solidify your masterpiece count? Is Alan Arkin less awesome because he’s always a supporting player? Is “Raising Arizona” less John Goodman’s movie than Nicolas Cage’s? You see my point.
David Ansen considered this very same topic in Newsweek in 2005, arriving at the conclusion for actors looking to make a mark that “the most lasting young star of risk-averse Hollywood is the one who’s taken the most flying leaps.” Surely no one would accuse Streep of being risk-averse in her performances, but she’s conservative in her choices. For a long time, she’s only worked with the most highly acclaimed directors; these days, she’s letting it all hang out, jumping at the chance to correct years of an overly-serious image with comedies left and right. Her taste in comic scripts (“Prime”) isn’t the best, but it’s a Hail Mary pass to re-establish herself as an expert comedienne that could land her that masterpiece yet.