My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress 1998: Meryl Streep in "One True Thing"

In 1996, Meryl Streep played opposite Diane Keaton in the sentimental drama Marvin’s Room. Meryl Streep did not receive an Oscar nomination for her work but Diane Keaton did for playing a woman who faces a fatal illness with lots of dignity. Two years later, Meryl Streep probably thought it would be time for another nomination for herself and starred as a woman who faces a fatal illness with lots of dignity in the sentimental family drama One True Thing.

Meryl Streep is not the central character of One True Thing – the story is about Ellen Gulden (Renée Zellweger), a young career-woman who returns to her parent’s home for the birthday of her father, a college-professor and novelist whom she is keen to impress and please. Ellen has an obviously distant relationship to her mother Kate (Meryl Streep) and almost openly rejects her for her life as a wife and mother.

Meryl Streep is often described as a very technical and controlled actress and the wheels in her head are also turning here – she expresses joy and laughter in a very studied and calculated way but it’s the gift of Meryl Streep to appear warm and spontaneous nonetheless. Her work here is much more relaxed than usual and Meryl Streep is able to combine her talent and experience as a technical actress with a lot of honest and open emotions that seem to come more from inside.

Meryl Streep enters the movie in a very playful manner – dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz because the birthday party for her husband has the theme to dress as your favorite literature character. The news that her daughter Ellen didn’t bother to put on a costume obviously disappoints Kate but, like in almost every family drama, everybody puts on a happy façade and pretends as if everything is perfect. Meryl Streep uses these first scenes to show that Kate is a very positive person, cheerful and, as her husband later describes her, a ray of light. But Meryl Streep doesn’t overdo these aspects of Kate but instead always keeps in touch with the more serious tone of the movie. She also finds enough moments to suggest that even though Kate is a woman who seems to enjoy her life and wants to find perfection for her family, she is very aware that her dreams are not reality.

Apart from playing these sides of Kate and demonstrating the rip in her relationship to her daughter, Meryl Streep mostly stays in the background of the story. The focus of the story always lies on Ellen and her life, her mother is always a secondary character. But when Kate is diagnosed with cancer, Meryl Streep gets more chances to shine and the importance of her character improves. But Ellen still remains the center for the story as the movie tells how she has to change her own life to take care of her alienated mother and how she grows close to her again.

When the illness begins to take over Kate’s life, Meryl Streep has the some opportunities and same problems that Diane Keaton faced in Marvin’s Room: the opportunities to impress and move the viewer with some well executed scenes of graceful suffering but the problems of a limited script that sees graceful suffering as the only characteristic for Kate and doesn’t give her anything else to do besides that. Also like Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep is helped by the sentimentality and heartbreak of the movie which makes a rather standard performance seem more special because of a likeable character’s tragic fate. But Meryl Streep surely took all the opportunities of her character and used the showy elements of the part to display her undeniable talent: the scene when she shows her hidden anger when books are discussed and it becomes obvious how underappreciated Kate feels and her furious and later heartbreaking breakdown in her wheelchair are certainly very memorable moments. But it’s the scene when Kate finally confronts her daughter and tells her to appreciate the positive aspects of life, to love the things you have instead of wanting things you can’t have that leaves the greatest impact. Meryl Streep is wonderful in showing the confusion and at the same time determination in Kate who wants to be heard and finally talk about herself but finds out that she actually doesn’t have that much to say.

It’s a memorable and moving performance that unfortunately doesn’t give Meryl Streep more chances to create her character apart from the guidelines of the average script. She never gets to show how her illness and the thought of death really affect her. One True Thing spends more time letting people talk about Kate than letting Kate talk for herself. But Meryl Streep’s qualities as an actress surely add to the impact of the movie and for this she gets


Malcolm said...

Ow. And I thought you would give her a 4. Anyway, I can't blame her. It's really about the movie.

I myself was surprised on how small her role was. She made Kate three-dimensional, but there wasn't much for her.

She left me wanting for more. Maybe she could have won for supporting, but I can see that she is so in control of her scenes.

joe burns said...

I think she'll be fifth. What did you think of her in Streep?

Fritz said...


joe burns said...

Oh, lol. What did you think of her in Marvin's Room?

Fritz said...


I really liked her in this movie and would have preferred to see her nominated over Diane Keaton.