Profiling the directorial debut of “Ghost Whisperer” creator John Gray — who’s financing his directorial debut “White Irish Drinkers” with $600,000 out of his own pocket — The New York Times‘ John Anderson feels it necessary to tell us that “it’s never been a tougher climate for independent film, since they don’t usually feature seven-foot blue-skinned Na’vis or Meryl Streep.” Har. More importantly: when did super-advanced 3D f/x and a sexegenarian acting legend become the same thing?
About two years ago. In accordance with the old studio executive dictum that two of anything is a trend that can be ridden out indefinitely, Streep’s blockbuster summers with “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Mamma Mia!” led Entertainment Weekly to dub her a “box office queen.” Vanity Fair picked up the meme as their January 2010 cover story. The evidence: those two movies, plus “Julie & Julia” and “It’s Complicated.”
Though journalists who need to fill up space are often guilty of cooking up fake trends from anything that happens three or more times, in this case, it’s the studio heads that deserve the blame. The EW article has Sony chief Amy Pascal raving about how Streep let her “sexiness” out in “Adaptation.” More interestingly, Donna Langley — then president of production at Universal, now co-chair — was skeptical that would lead to more female-driven films. “I don’t think one has anything to do with the other,” she said. “It’s a specific Meryl moment. But it’s wonderful to watch.”
Well, no, it’s not even that. It’s certainly true that Streep is toplining successful films, and that she has something to do with it. But correlation and causation are not the same thing; if they were, we’d be talking not just about those four films, but all the other amazingly successful films she’s made since “Prada.” Ready? “Dark Matter,” “Evening,” “Rendition,” “Lions for Lambs,” “Doubt.” Do you see where I’m going with this?
Now, granted, all of those were tough sells (“Lions for Lambs” is straight-up garbage, in particular), but her hits have all needed a little more help than having her name above the title. “Prada” was an adaptation of a wildfire best-seller done right, timed to ride on the hysteria surrounding “America’s Next Top Model,” “Mamma Mia!” filled the musical void during the summer of 2008 and used ABBA like a club, “Julie & Julia” was a cross-generational biopic, one of whom was really famous, released during the height of the Food Network’s popularity. The only one I’m prepared to concede is “It’s Complicated,” and even there, it was an ensemble rather than a solo vehicle released when there were no other major comedies at Christmas.
This is no knock on Streep, who I’ve particularly enjoyed in her late-period comedienne phase; she’s finally stopped scaring the hell out of me, leaving me more time to have nightmares about Isabelle Huppert. But her success doesn’t really have much to do with audiences having an OMGMERYLSTREEP moment. And certainly no one’s going to confuse her with a Na’vi.
[Photos: “The Devil Wears Prada,” 20th Century Fox, 2006; “Julie & Julia,” Columbia Pictures, 2009.]