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The infinite variety of Meryl Streep

Two recent releases have reinforced the belief that Meryl Streep is in a league all by herself, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Jul 15, 2006 17:28 IST

Two films that opened recently in the US have reinforced a belief that movie fans around the world have held all along – the marvellous Meryl Streep is in a league all by herself.

The sheer range of her histrionic skills has yielded some wonderfully magical screen moments over the years. This year, Streep is in the midst a small resurgence that is poised to add a new chapter to the ever-evolving saga of an actress of immense substance.  

Eighty-one-year-old auteur Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion and David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada are two films that have nothing in common but for the wondrous Streep. What’s truly amazing about her performances in Prairie and Prada is the distance that separates them in terms of material substance, emotional texture and stylistic emphasis.

 
Two films that opened recently in the US have reinforced a belief that movie fans around the world have held all along – the marvellous Meryl Streep is in a league all by herself.

In Altman’s episodic ode to one of public radio’s longest running shows, the 57-year-old Streep plays one half of a singing sister act – the other is embodied by the equally remarkable Lily Tomlin – in a sweeping, artless style that is perfectly in tune with the bouncy, goofy spirit that informs

A Prairie Home Companion

.

In The Devil Wears Prada, on the other hand, Streep is the cold, calculating, oh-so-proper New York magazine editor Miranda Priestley, a character modelled on Anna Wintour, the legendary editor-in-chief of Vogue.

Rarely has a Hollywood actress fleshed out two characters as far removed from each other as Prairie Home Companion’s Yolanda Johnson and The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestley in two releases as distinct from each other as Altman and Frankel’s films.        

Streep is without an iota of doubt among the finest dramatic actresses in the history of the movies. Her reputation rests primarily on a slew of superb performances in emotionally intense films, most of which belong to the early years of her movie acting career. We are talking here about films like Kramer Vs Kramer, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Sophie’s Choice, Out of Africa and A Cry in the Dark, among several others.

In recent years, however, her best-loved star turns have primarily been in comedies. Both A Prairie Home Companion and The Devil Wears Prada, while not exactly being laugh riots, belong to the comic genre. However, in each of these two films, Streep is a distinct personality.

The Devil Wears Prada, one of this summer’s biggest hits, would at best have been a feeble satire on the New York fashion scene but for the edge that Streep’s looming interpretation of her self-absorbed character lends to the film. She demonstrates, as she has done oftentimes in the past, that when she is allowed to cut loose, to sink her fingers into vitriol, she can come up with an effect that singes one to the very bones.

In sharp contrast, A Prairie Home Companion brings out the unbridled side of Streep’s personality. While she is in fine fettle in the comic bits, she blends the elegiac with the robust, the heartfelt with the bubbly, to create a human portrait that lingers for long in the moviegoer’s heart and mind.

Streep has sung onscreen before, but she has never done a better job of it than she does in A Prairie Home Companion. She is in her elements especially when she shares a duet with Garrison Keillor, the creator and host of the real-life live radio show that Altman’s film fictionalises.

Amazing is a word that would suffice in the case of most other contemporaneous actresses. For Meryl Streep, however, it captures only half the story. She is well beyond merely amazing. She is divine.