You can dribble the Viola Davis basketball all over the court and shoot swish shots to your heart’s content, but that won’t change the fact that Meryl Streep‘s freakishly dead-on performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (Weinstein, 12.30) seems like a much more likely winner of the Best Actress Oscar right now. As far as I’m concerned it’s a Streep vs. Michelle Williams (i.e., as Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn) contest with Davis half-elbowed aside.
Okay, maybe it’s a three-way race but I’m thinking again about Davis, superb as she is in The Help, not really playing a lead role in that whiter-than-white movie about domestic racial relations in 1962 Mississippi. And you can’t argue this point by tap-dancing around it. At best she’s playing a very strong supporting role, but not a lead.
I have to leave for two screenings in 30 minutes for I’m just going to paste what I wrote to some journalist friends a little while ago about The Iron Lady, which I feel is an acceptably okay and sometimes better-than-okay biopic with a curious emphasis on the destination rather than the journey. Here it is:
“Am I wrong or is at least 45% of The Iron Lady about octagenerian Maggie (superbly played by Streep and assisted by a first-rate makeup job — much better than Leo’s old-age makeup in J. Edgar), 45% about Maggie in her political prime (Streep again, guns blazing) and 10% about very young Maggie (Alexandra Roach) and young Denis Thatcher (Harry Lloyd)?
“I didn’t clock it but I was almost amazed that so much of the film is about the ravages of age and coping with senility and delusion. I mean, the film keeps going back to dithery old Maggie as she probably is right now, over and over and over. I think this was thrown in as (a) a sympathy ploy to get the audience on Maggie’s side and (b) to hand Meryl a juicy acting opportunity in the playing of a proud stubborn woman suffering an inevitable decline along with middle-aged gunboat Maggie standing up to British male chauvinism, and in so doing cinching that Best Actress Oscar.
“I honestly think that Viola Davis’s chances are lower now. I think Glenn Close‘s nomination (assuming it happens) is going to be the tribute she’s looking for, and that’s all. It’s Streep vs. Williams, as far as I can foresee. Am I wrong?
“Apart from Streep’s impersonation of Lady Thatcher being truly delicious (but then you knew that) and the film applying a kind of suppressive gloss on Thatcher’s generally cruel, heartless policies and her cynical ploy (I believe) to distract the nation from domestic issues and ensure her reelection by going to war against Argentina, I thought the film on its own terms was somewhere between half-decent and pretty good….if a bit curious. At the very least it’s far from the boilerplate biopic I expected, and I rather enjoyed the boldness of that.
“I didn’t think Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) had it in her to make an interesting film out of this character and this material. The Iron Lady isn’t what I would call great or excellent, but it’s a curious, unusual biopic about a rugged, not especially likable and yet admirable (in some ways) woman, and is intriguing for the ways in which it diverts from the usual-usual.
“I must say I was surprised and almost shocked by the emphasis on the old, withered, hallucinating Thatcher, coping with the ravages of old age, veering in and out of senility and lucidity, etc. It’s odd that so much screen time is given to this portion of her life as there’s really nowhere to go with it (except, I suppose, into the issue of Maggie trying to eradicate her hallucinations of her late husband Denis, played in gray-haired maturity by Jim Broadbent), but that was the choice.
“The Maggie-in-her-prime-as-Prime-Minister stuff is good enough. It’s my idea of assured, comprehensive, disciplined, well-shaped and nicely paced. But it also feels a teeny bit rote and rushed at times.
“All in all it’s a rather lamenting and bittersweet drama about life slipping away, drop by drop, at the end of the road, and also, I have to say, a somewhat stirring feminist piece and an effective delivery of conservative propaganda. Which I fell for slightly. If you have any backbone and toughness in you, if you’ve trusted and relied upon yourself to get out there and build your life into something, and if you feel anything for the plight of women being marginalized and patronized by old-school chauvinist pigs, then the movie is somewhat moving. It just is. Somewhat.
Margaret and Denis Thatcher as they were comically portrayed in For Your Eyes Only.
“I know there are a lot of lefties out there who will hate it and trash it because it doesn’t condemn Thatcher sharply enough. Or not at all, I’m sure some will say. But the bottom line is that Streep made me chuckle with pleasure from time to time. I was saying to mself, ‘Oh, God…this is so good, so amazing…I can’t help feeling delighted.’
“The octagenarian Maggie stuff, as noted, has been emphasized, I believe, to create a sense of sympathy for the character, as her mind and senses are clearly going bit by bit and without this tragic falling-apart-at-the-end she’d be a staunch, flinty harridan. If the movie was all about Maggie in her prime, the character would be admired for her brass balls but wouldn’t be very likable, and might be seen in some circles as the out-and-out monster that her detractors call her, and the movie wouldn’t, in all likelihood, do as well as the box-office (and with Academy members).
“Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur) is sharp and believable as Thatcher’s daughter Carol (I barely recognized her due to a wig and prosthetics) and the young Margaret actress (Ms. Roach) is also quite impressive. I’m not entirely sure about Broadbent’s Denis. His goofy, spectacle-enlarged eyes made him look like the guy who spoofed him at the end of For Your Eyes Only (’82).”