Meryl Streep and ‘what that feels like’

Aside from her Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep gets the Trending Award from the Internet this morning for her speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

I couldn’t go anywhere on my Facebook feed without embedded videos of her speech and cheers for her in general. And most news sites I checked had the story above the fold or in a significant place on their phone apps.

She was, of course, eloquent.

Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said: You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.

But who are we, and what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island; Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids in Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in London — no, in Ireland I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a girl in small-town Virginia.

Ryan Gosling, like all of the nicest people, is Canadian, and Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, and is here playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick them all out you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

They gave me three seconds to say this, so: An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like.

And, naturally, one of the people to whom her remarks were directed — a man known for dominance at all costs — responded less than eloquently in 140 characters or less:

(Here’s the video of Trump. Decide for yourself: )

Well, you can say a lot of things about Meryl Streep, but “overrated” isn’t one of them. She’s just plain excellent. I was reminded of that last week when I had a chance to watch “Florence Foster Jenkins,” in which Streep plays the title character — a New York heiress who loves music, loves to sing, but has an atrocious voice. The way Streep plays her, sometimes she seems in on the joke; other times you can see she’s lost in love for Music and can’t hear what everyone else can.

The movie, which was directed by the dependable Stephen Frears, was better than I thought — the script, in particular (by Nicholas Martin), doesn’t talk down to the audience but cleverly weaves its exposition into the 1940s setting. And there’s one scene — one line reading — which pretty much says it all about Streep.

Jenkins is being examined by a doctor after falling ill. While looking at her shoulders, he sees the lesions of syphilis. He asks how she got it, and she says (I’m paraphrasing slightly), “When I was 18, on my wedding night.”

In that one line, Streep indicates that, behind the facade of a buffoonish society matron, there is an entire life of sadness and regret. Florence Foster Jenkins was once a teenager burned by love in the worst way, and she’s had to live with her mistake ever since. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. Few other actors can convey so much with so little.

(Kudos, too, to Hugh Grant for his tender performance.)

Streep concluded her Golden Globes speech by mentioning the “act of empathy.” I hope you take note, Mr. President-elect.


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