I recently suffered through a god-awful, on-demand movie called 'Hope Springs.' It starred Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell. The flick was laughably bad, and took the word formulaic to a new, all-time low. But, the film also got me thinking about Ms. Streep. Why would one of the great actresses of her era appear in one horrific movie after another? Diane Keaton is another superb actress who has prostituted her craft by appearing in a rash of mindless B-movies.
Pulling a Streep isn’t limited to great actresses, mind you. I’d argue that Robert DeNiro has completely obliterated his legacy with a spate of rubbish that spans at least two decades. And, Dustin Hoffman isn’t far behind Bobby. Luckily, though, for each Streep and DeNiro, there’s a Dame Judi Dench or Al Pacino, who stays true to the art form that is acting.
My wife argues that legendary actors pull a Streep for one of two reasons:
- There simply aren’t that many great roles available to actors and actresses ‘of a certain age’
- They want to keep active with new, and fun, projects.
To which I politely respond, bunk!
If Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty or Al Pacino wants a leading role in an upcoming flick, they’ll get one. Period. Ditto for a Barbra Streisand (ugh) or Sally Field. As for wanting to keep busy, these actors could easily hone their craft by playing regional theatre, say, in Waterville, Maine.
All of this is relevant to you, dear reader, because I’ve seen quite a few legendary PR demi-gods pulling a Streep. I’ve winced as some wizened wise men have droned on endlessly at industry conferences. And, I’ve watched as one in particular dozed off in the middle of a critical briefing from an A-level client to whom we were each providing counsel. I remember pulling our account manager aside afterwards, and asking him to let me know if I’m even coming close to approaching Streep-time.
I think great actors and actresses such as Keaton and Hoffman take ersatz roles for two reasons:
- They need to believe they’re still relevant
- They need to know that today’s audiences still love them.
While none of us will ever achieve the Olympian heights of a Meryl Streep or Robert DeNiro, we will reach a certain level of success. It’s critical that each, and every, one of us knows when to say when (and exit stage left in a graceful manner).
That’s why, after just being named Crain’s BEST Workplace in NYC, I’m thinking about offing myself. I don’t want anyone saying, ‘Man, that guy Steve Cody is sure pulling a Streep, isn’t he?”
Point made, Julie. One can never, ever, be rich enough.
There’s one explanation no one has offered: Maybe someone made them an offer they couldn’t refuse? Money talks, as they say… And it doesn’t matter how rich they may seem to us mere mortals…
I do think there’s a balance between “never doing a bad movie” and regularly doing them. After all, Meryl Streep’s lowest rated movie in her career by critics (using Rotten Tomatoes as a barometer) still got 26% (Lions for Lambs by Robert Redford…which, considering who it was and the subject matter…she probably thought was going to be good. I would put her in that category of someone who occasionally lets her hair down alongside regularly still doing Oscar-award-winning performances on a regular basis. (After all, when’s the last time Al Pacino’s had a breakthrough performance? Not to pick on him, since I really like him). Even Hoffman has had a much better track record than De Niro…His biggest bombs of the last decade were the Meet the Parents sequels with De Niro and some subpar kids movies, but it’s been alongside good runs in movies like Stranger than Fiction, I Heart Huckabees, Barney’s Version, Lsat Chance Harvey, and others…and “stooping down” to TV to do “Luck” for HBO.
Sean Penn is merely coming full circle, Ghost. His Jeff Spicoli character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High remains one of my all-time favorite B-movie performances by an A-level actor (prior to said actor achieving A-level status). And, no, I can’t say I’ve ever caught Ed dozing.
Sean Penn might be a better choice for your purposes.
P.S. Just out of curiosity: Was Ed the industry sage who dozed off during the client presentation?
I knew you’d have a strong opinion on this blog, Sam. And, I obviously respect it. While I get that Beatty or Pacino sometimes want to let down their respective hair and have fun, I do think they haven’t crossed the line a la DeNiro. That guy’s in a new B-movie every two months. It’s really sad to see.
Well, considering Al Pacino has:
I don’t think he’d be your best poster child for your point. But I do think it’s a good point…that many actors who could be choosy about what they do don’t hone their long-term reputation in the way they might.
I would say, though, that there are other reasons good actors make bad movies…because of their relationship with someone involved in the film; or their desire to work with another actor, even if the film isn’t that good; or because the project had more promise and then the quality fell apart after they’d already committed. Or because they want to do something outside their genre to show their range and keep from getting too typecast, even if the film isn’t that good. One reason I particularly have sympathy for, though: they are in a movie that isn’t necessarily that good just because they want to have fun. (For Pacino, Hoffman, Beatty, and others, Dick Tracy fits that category…No one would consider it a classic, but you can tell the actors seemed to having a good time in it.)