For a very long time this is a tribute I feel I was meant to write.
Almost as long as I have loved film, Meryl Streep has been my favorite actor, the grand dame of cinema, not to mention arguably the best actress of all-time. Her consistency time and again, not to mention awe inspiring range and versatility on screen still find ways to surprise me.
From humble beginnings as a student at Vassar with no aspirations of acting, Streep quickly shot to stardom in a mere decade. In a story that has become something of a legend, she was asked to read a dramatic passage from "A Streetcar Named Desire" as a freshman in her introductory drama class in 1967. Upon doing so the professor instantly recognized her talent, and four years later she graduated with drama as her major and acting as her goal.
From there it was on to graduate work at Yale, where, even among her select and highly talented peers, she was regarded as something rare.
After graduation, Streep moved to New York City, and pursued theater with much success, earning a Tony nomination and an Obie award after only two years of professional work. Clearly her star was on the rise, and it was only a matter of time.
A.O. Scott of the New York Times once said that the best kind of movie is one that takes situations of character displeasure and which turns them into audience pleasure. To make the audience feel the discomfort of a character is pedestrian, but to feel joy through a character's sorrow, now that is transcendently cinematic.
And that is what has always been so incredible for me about Streep's acting. She embodies this idea to its core, and I always feel joy emanating from her on screen. All her best performances speak so fully of the human experience, flawed humans who are beautiful because of their imperfections.
These qualities carry into her personal life as well. Of course, being a Hollywood star tends to be a very public affair in America, and yet, Streep has managed to keep her private life as it should be: private. Married to sculptor Don Gummer since the late 1970s, her family is never tabloid fodder. She always conducts herself with the self-respect and dignity evident in every one of her characters on screen.
As a novice film actress, Streep had the kind of initial run from 1977 to 1979 that most actors would mark as the pinnacle of their careers, and for her it was only the beginning. In this early period, her performance alongside Dustin Hoffman in "Kramer vs. Kramer," as parents fighting a custody battle over their only son, won both of them deserved Oscars. In a small part Streep cuts deep, showing a woman aware of her needs but unsure of how to balance them with her responsibilities as a parent.
Also, in "The Deer Hunter," as a Pennsylvania small-town wife during the Vietnam War, her luminous presence is in full force in her first major film role.
But it was in the 1980s that Streep's star truly took off. Her dominance during this period was so complete that whenever there was a juicy, well-written role for women, she got it, almost without question. There was also the small matter of her name becoming synonymous with the words "world's greatest living actress."
The film that contributed most to that title, and which will always define her career, is "Sophie's Choice." Already a popular actress, Meryl became fluent in Polish, and revealed the depths of a person tortured by the Holocaust and its legacy. To me, this is one of the best acting performances in history. She so easily could have given into the histrionics of the role, but instead fulfilled the idea presented by A.O. Scott. When faced with describing this performance, words fail me and adjectives seem too trite. No understanding of Streep's brilliance will be complete without seeing this performance.
Throughout the rest of the decade Streep continued to turn out amazing, critically acclaimed performances: as a factory worker fearing chemical contamination in "Silkwood," a (plantation owner?) living in (where in Africa?) in love with Robert Redford in "Out of Africa," an unemotional mother who became a media scapegoat in "A Cry in the Dark," and as a homeless woman during the Depression alongside Jack Nicholson in "Ironweed."
Her fame was not limited to critical success either, as her six People's Choice Awards for favorite actress demonstrate. No actress before or since then has come close to equaling her run of non-stop cinematic dominance.
After a slight downturn in quantity of film roles, Streep experienced a resurgence over the last few years, appearing in "The Hours," as well as "Adaptation" where she plays the author of a book Nicolas Cage is attempting to adapt. With this role she received her 13th supporting Actress nomination, making her the most nominated actor ever, male or female.
Her four roles in the TV miniseries "Angels in America" won her her fifth Golden Globe and second Emmy.
Over the next few years she has as many as seven films in production, most notably "A Prairie Home Companion," a film by Robert Altman about the most famous American radio show ever, as well as "Dirty Tricks," where she plays Martha Mitchell, the wife of the Attorney General during the Nixon administration, which could bring her a long-awaited third Oscar.
Considering how much I love her work, it is certainly a dream to one day finally meet Meryl Streep in person; I cannot tell you how overjoyed I would be. But regardless of whether that happens, whenever a new film of hers opens, this film lover will be in the front row, overjoyed at being able to see her up on the big screen doing what she does like no one else. Meryl, I love you.