I started watching movies in earnest at about the same time that Meryl Streep was well known for playing a variety of dramatic characters in serious films. I had little interest in heavyweight prestige films like Out of Africa, Sophie's Choice or Silkwood; my favorite Streep role was one of her earliest, as Woody Allen's ex-wife in the 1979 film Manhattan. Not only did she give us a peek at her masterful comic timing, but as you can see above, she actually looked and sounded like the contemporary Meryl Streep, with no foreign accent or heavy costuming. We weren't supposed to like her character in Manhattan, who left Allen for another woman and then wrote a nasty tell-all book about their failed marriage, but somehow Streep managed to inject the role with a little sympathy. Besides, she was a much better grounded and less flaky person than the character played by Diane Keaton. I haven't seen Manhattan in years, since it played at a local repertory theater and I realized that I loved the way it looked, and the soundtrack, but the characters and storyline were borderline repellant. I can only stand so much New York neurosis, and at least Annie Hall is funnier.
Over the years, Meryl Streep has finally brought her comic talents out in a number of movies, and while she's nearly always great, the movies are uneven. As a fan of Nora Ephron's book Heartburn, I was terribly disappointed in the movie adaptation. The same is true of She-Devil, where Streep is the sole wonderful element in a lame adaptation of Fay Weldon's book. Defending Your Life ... slight but fun. Death Becomes Her ... more disappointment. Fortunately, in recent years Streep has appeared in some very good comedies, like Adaptation and the movie for which she is Oscar-nominated for Best Actress, The Devil Wears Prada. Streep has won two Oscars, but both are for dramatic roles, in Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie's Choice. I'd like to see her win an Academy Award someday for one of her comic performances, although I suspect this may not be the year.