Months of Meryl: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
Thursday,August 2,2018 at 12:31PM
John Guerin in A Series of Unfortunate Events,Colleen Atwood,Emily Browning,Jim Carrey,Lemony Snicket,Meryl Streep,Months of Meryl,comedy

JohnandMattheware watching every single live-action film starring Meryl Streep.

#31 —Aunt Josephine,an agoraphobic,grammar-obsessed,hermetic eccentric.

MATTHEW:  Who says Meryl Streep doesn't make movies for kids?In 2004,Streep lent her talents to Brad Silberling's film adaptation ofA Series of Unfortunate Events,Lemony Snicket's (néeDaniel Handler) acclaimed literary series that,over the course of 13 novels,chronicled the many misfortunes and menacing adventures of an orphaned trio of children...

There's Violet (played by Emily Browning,later ofSucker PunchandSleeping Beauty),an inventor of quick-thinking,MacGyver-like abilities;Klaus (Liam Aiken),a bookworm with an encyclopedic mind;and toddler Sunny (played by twins Kara and Shelby Hoffman),an incorrigible biter whose goo-goo-gah-gahs are given comical,subtitled meanings.When their wealthy parents perish in a bizarre house fire,the siblings are shipped off to Count Olaf,a vain stage actor who resorts to murderous means to acquire their family fortune.

But the Baudelaire children,redoubtable survivalists that they are,always manage to escape the Count's traps with their lives intact,upon which they are shipped from guardian to guardian,one of which is Streep's dotty and doddering Aunt Josephine.

IfThe River WildandMusic of the Heartare family-friendly Streep-starrers that are primarily concerned with adult conflicts thenLemony Snicket,with its teenage leads and Nickelodeon imprimatur,is the first Streep film whose storytelling sensibility is patently geared towards a younger audience.The movie is also undisguisedly a vehicle for Jim Carrey,who,as the dastardly,ruthless Olaf,wavers between creating a complete (and completely flamboyant) character and just pulling out gags and accents from his prodigious bag of tricks.It's a mid-grade entertainment,a Dickensian tale child-proofed with some zany preposterousness,that's distinguished by inventive design (including costumes by Colleen Atwood,an Oscar-nominated score by Thomas Newman,and cinematography by the great Emmanuel Lubezki) and a pitch-black sense of humor,not to mention a sporadically wise understanding of childhood grief.

What's most interesting about Streep's rare foray into the popular if not always fruitful realm of family movies is that the actress' scenes aren't the combined showcase that a star of her stature might reasonably expect.Instead,she's just another merry member of a ragtag troupe and she therefore follows her fellow actors in the adult ensemble by enlivening her isolated screen time with ecstatic overstatement and shameless immaturity.

Cast as a bundle of irrational fears and nerves who teeters into the movie mid-narrative,Streep shrieks,shakes,and squints with the zest of a ham who rarely gets the opportunity to show this side of herself and is thus intent on feeding us as much clownery as she can.Her lopsided bun and rounded eyewear,perfect for housing and highlighting Streep's often popping pupils,are tiny comic treats unto themselves,but there isn't a ton of character detail,much less variation,for Streep to grab ahold of in her moments.Although the role is far larger than those of the truly wasted Cedric the Entertainer,Jennifer Coolidge,and Catherine O'Hara,Streep's Aunt Josephine still ends up feeling underutilized,particularly in her spare interactions with Carrey,a tried-and-true ham who never really gets to stand toe-to-toe with his clearly eager scene partner.(I'd happily watch at least five more scenes of Aunt Josephine witlessly flirting with Carrey's shiver-me-timbers seaman Captain Sham,one of Olaf's numerous guises.) Does poor,terrified Aunt Josephine feel like a slightly missed opportunity to you?

JOHN: Considering that Aunt Josephine was chiefly a way for Streep to wear a funny wig to please her brood,I'd say she met this opportunity.Aunt Josephine is not a role that vies for Oscars,亚博主页nor is it a star vehicle or psychological character study,but rather Streep's chance to loosen up,have some fun,and make something that her young children would be interested in watching.As exciting as it is to watch Streep scream at Jane Lynch,be seduced by Olaf's love of grammar,and fight off a horde of seafaring leeches,there's nothing especially surprising in Streep's performance,and even in her decision to do this small part.Streep's expert comic skills had been on display throughout her entire career,fromThe Seduction of Joe TynantoHeartburntoPostcards from the EdgetoDeath Becomes HerandAdaptation.Likewise,Streep — The Greatest Actress of Our Time — eschews vanity both in her disdain for her own celebrity and in the sometimes smallish roles she selects;she's as happy to slink into an ensemble as she is headlining a prestige drama.As Aunt Josephine,Streep is a miniature,crowd-pleasing delight.She's completely attuned to the film's zany yet cynical tone,lending her chops to a box-office champion and accruing younger fans in the process.It may not be a top-tier act of thesping nor a surprise to anyone paying serious attention to her career,but it's an amusing diversion nonetheless.

A Series of Unfortunate Eventsis first and foremost Carrey's movie,but in the brief scenes he shares with Streep,the two share a zesty and compelling rapport,as when Carrey's Olaf woos homely Aunt Josephine from her paranoid loneliness,or when the two are bartering for the children on the open sea.Streep so oftens plays well against comedians;they always seem to keep her on her toes,coaxing out the refreshing verve and spontaneity that these projects require.It's a shame that Streep and Carrey aren't afforded more scenes together,or that Streep doesn't share any screen time with Coolidge and O'Hara,as she clearly excels at imaginative world-building with comic scene partners of all stripes and talents.

Reader,which comic do you dream of seeing Streep spar with?

previously on Months of Meryl

Article originally appeared on The Film Experience (//亚博主页
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