Posted on August 11, 2009 at 3:59 pm
Slate has put together a magnificent compilation of some of Meryl Streep’s best accents but what I think of when I watch this is the astonishing range of the performances behind them. It is almost impossible to imagine that it is the same person playing the steely nun, the Holocaust survivor, the Australian mother accused of killing her child, the Danish writer, the barfly. Look at the difference between her portrayals of two women with Irish accents, one Irish, one Irish American. The stunning achievement of her performance as Julia Child is not the accent, or even her ability to appear to add six inches of height, but the way she creates a complete and true character within the larger-than-life and very caricature-able personal characteristics so familiar to so many people. It is a clever trick of writer/director Nora Ephron to include in “Julie & Julia” a clip of Dan Ackroyd’s “Saturday Night Live” parody of Child’s television persona as a compelling contrast to the subtle and endearing character Streep is able to create from the same raw material. Charlie Rose had a marvelous interview with Ephron and Streep about the film, where Ephron said that two of the movie’s best moments, so immediate and effective that both appear in the trailer, were both improvised by Streep. I was also very interested that Streep said she found it liberating when she decided her job was not to re-create the actual historical figure of Julia Child but to portray Child the way she was seen by blogger Julie Powell half a century later. This enabled her to bring in to the portrayal not just Child’s mannerisms but Streep’s own mother’s expansive and generous sense of joy.