Jan 28, 2012
The Iron Lady
There is a scene towards the beginning of this misconceived borefest that encapsulates the monster of acting that is Meryl Streep. There is no other reason to watch this muddled film. Streep is a freak. We all know she can do voices and mimic accents like an android, but in this scene, as Margaret Thatcher in old age, she is losing her memory and is confused, but proud, but bewildered, trying to remember; a dozen different feelings passing through her terrified eyes. Her face may be under layers of latex (the make-up deserves an Oscar), and she may mimic old age to perfection, but for a vibrant woman like her to express so truthfully what happens in the mind in the fog of old age, it is killer, killer stuff. And we have not even seen her at the height of her powers. Streep provides a technique fest: a different voice when she was younger, a lowered voice when she became leader of the Conservative Party, a perfect accent, the walk, the mannerisms. But she is a monster because within the meticulousness and fierceness of her preparation, she nails the moments of human truth. She nails every scene. No one should complain if she wins every award in the book. She deserves them all. Too bad she is so extraordinary in such a bad movie.
1. I am beyond exhausted with the overarching flashback convention in biopics, when we see the character in old age reminisce here and there about their most memorable moments, as if they were chocolate chips sinking in cookie batter. This plot device drains the story of tension and it muddles the arc of the character, which in this case is even more discombobulated because there seems to be no real backbone to the story. Why couldn't Thatcher's story be told chronologically, from a grocer's daughter to the longest serving Prime Minister of Britain, to doddering old age? At least we'd be excited by the conflicts she had to overcome, by the momentum of looking forward to what's going to happen, not to what already did.
So boring, I want to scream.
2. Harvey Weinstein. There a scene in this movie that is exactly like a scene in his last movie, The King's Speech. Do we really need to see a montage of Thatcher undergoing coaching, changing her hair into her famed blond helmet, as if she were an American Idol contestant? In this school of filmmaking even someone as formidable, fierce and polarizing as Margaret Thatcher gets the audience-pleasing Weinstein shtick. If you have Meryl Streep on board, it's enough to trust her humanizing capabilities and use her to paint a truly interesting portrait of a major political personality. No need to encase her in sugar. But no. There's this syrupy schmaltz about her fantasizing talking to her husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent), who's been dead forever. This unbecoming attempt to humanize her makes this movie into pap.
3. Hamhandedness. How many scenes must there be of men snickering behind Maggie's back? Her story is not well served by a commonplace attempt to make it into a narrative of feminist triumph. Lots of women hated Thatcher with a passion. There is no need to turn her into a feminist hero. The woman herself, her achievements and mistakes are enough. Feminism becomes a tired cliché; it defeats the purpose.
4. As my friend the Media Mogul bitterly complained, have a point of view! Hate her and her policies, admire her, have an opinion about her turbulent tenure. Screenwriter Abi Morgan has written cloying pap which is completely inappropriate for Thatcher, an unsparingly unsentimental woman.