It's Meryl Streep's 66th birthday. Have you noticed that Meryl's supposed “superfans” spend a lot of time lionizing her but remaining unspecific about what makes her performances and movies so good? Let's change that. To celebrate Meryl's birthday, let's remind ourselves how we can be less basic when it comes to appreciating her work. I'm tired of people screaming “SHE IS PERFECTION!!!” and the leaving their appraisal at that. She's a significant artist we can always appreciate more.
1. Know that “A Cry in the Dark” is Meryl's most prescient film.
“The dingo ate my baby.” It's not a comedic line; it's a woman screaming when she learns an animal has killed her child. “A Cry in the Dark” is perhaps the most misremembered movie in Meryl's filmography, a damning portrait of frenzied trial coverage and how sensational news can ruin an innocent person's reputation. As Lindy Chamberlain, Meryl finds a character who is stalwart in her resistance to public pandering — despite how it may help her case.
2. Bring up “Death Becomes Her” less. Bring up “Defending Your Life” more.
We all know “Death Becomes Her” is kooky, unhinged fun. But somehow “Defending Your Life,” a cleverer and less pretentious comedy for Albert Brooks than the criminally overrated “Lost in America,” gets lost in Meryl's filmography. Her work is sensitive and funny; plus she costars with the great Lee Grant, who is perfectly cast as an afterworld attorney.
3. Of course Meryl can sing. We've known that since the '70s. (And so have you.)
In the '70s, Meryl starred in a TV movie called “Secret Service” with John Lithgow as a Union spy during the Civil War. She unleashed her unbelievable soprano in the performance, and it predates her work in “Postcards from the Edge” by a full decade.
4. Give her credit for writing the greatest scene in a Best Picture winner.
Meryl won her first Oscar for “Kramer Vs. Kramer,” but it goes under-discussed that Meryl rewrote her character Joanna's major courtroom monologue to make her more human and sympathetic. That monologue is a turning point in the film; suddenly Joanna is a complicated, self-realized character whose emotional reality is laid bare before us.
5. Realize that the funniest moment in “The Devil Wears Prada” is this line-reading.
That. That is why Meryl Streep owns “The Devil Wears Prada.” It's not the fat jokes aimed at Anne Hathaway's character or the ridiculous Starbucks orders; it's how Meryl conveys Miranda Priestly's exasperation through the word “ready” here. Absolutely no one else could do that with such authority. That's all.