Meryl Streep was so bad, she was good

Actress Meryl Streep, president of the international jury for the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival, attends a news conference in Berlin, Germany on Feb 11, 2016.
Actress Meryl Streep, president of the international jury for the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival, attends a news conference in Berlin, Germany on Feb 11, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • And in a flash - well, several hundred flashes - she was gone.

Wearing a teal and white printed shift dress by Valentino and a vaguely surfer-girl blonde hairdo, Meryl Streep strode into the press tent outside the Lincoln Square cineplex in Manhattan on Tuesday night for the premiere of her new film, Florence Foster Jenkins.

And as visibly giddy television reporters awaited the rare chance to interview American cinema's reigning grande dame, Streep, 67, strode right out again.

Her comet-like passing could have been interpreted as a lapse in etiquette or an artistic statement in its own right.

When an actor has won three Oscars, after all, and been nominated seemingly every year since The Birth Of A Nation (1915), she has earned the right to engage with the public how she sees fit. Even so, it was a shame, because Streep's Garbo act denied the press corps a chance to ask an obvious question: Have you ever flopped at anything?

It was obvious given that the new film, directed by Stephen Frears, is a comedic tear-jerker based on the real story of an irrepressible 1940s socialite who dreamt of opera glory but made some of the most timelessly dreadful recordings ever put to wax.

The other actors in the film had no trouble recalling the times that they felt exposed, artistically, just like poor Florence in her Carnegie Hall debut.

"The worst time was in Cloud Atlas," recalled Hugh Grant, who plays Jenkins' quasi-faithful partner, St Clair Bayfield.

The directors of that 2012 film, he recalled, "asked me to play six hard-core villainous characters from different parts of history. I thought, 'I can do that; I can show everyone that there are more strings in my bow than just romantic comedy'".

"Suddenly," he added, "I was standing on a mountaintop dressed as a post-apocalyptic cannibal and I realised I had no idea how to play the part."

At the after-party, held at Brasserie 8½ in Solow Building on West 57th Street, Streep showed up in character as a great American actress who was not doing interviews (or even photographs at the party).

She, nevertheless, found time for warm embraces and banter with Arthur Levy, the vocal coach who had trained her to sing - that is, sing terribly - for the role.

"She was trained classically in her late teens and early 20s," Levy explained later, recalling their rehearsals together.

"Every once in a while, she'd get to a stratospheric note and wince. But it was still better, and more on pitch, and more rock solid, than Florence."

Even when Streep is bad, it seems, she is good.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2016, with the headline 'Meryl Streep was so bad, she was good'. Print Edition | Subscribe