Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Streepathon Stop #6: A Cry in the Dark

"The dingo's got my baby!" -Lindy Chamberlain

Time: 1988 (15th film)

Role: Lindy Chamberlain, embattled wife and mother accused of murder

Awards: 8th oscar nomination, GG (drama) nomination; NYFCC, Cannes, and Australian Film Institute wins

Fun Fact #1: This film reunited Streep with director Fred Schepisi and actor Sam Neill, both of whom had worked with her on Plenty three years prior.

Fun Fact #2: The film has two different titles: A Cry in the Dark, the international title, and Evil Angels, the Australian title (the book on which it's based shares the latter title). Strangely, within this past year, its official IMDB title has changed from A Cry in the Dark to Evil Angels. Since it was credited as A Cry in the Dark when I began the Streepathon, I've decided to refer to it by that title.

Fun Fact #3: Like some other famous movie catchphrases, the oft-quoted "A dingo ate my baby!" is never actually uttered in its film of origin. The closest Streep comes to saying those words is "The dingo's got my baby!" (quoted above), during the scene when she sees the murderous dingo.

Fun Fact #4: Much fuss has been made over Streep's (spotty?) Aussie accent in this film. But in reality, Lindy was not a native Aussie, but rather a Kiwi (she moved with her family to Australia as a small child). The real Lindy's accent was a strange amalgam of Aussie and Kiwi, and those who know her say Streep captured it rather well.

Meryl, Miranda & Lindy: No, not THAT Miranda. Miranda Otto played Lindy in a recent miniseries. Here are pictures of her, Meryl, and the real Lindy.

Film Review: This was not one of my favorite Meryl Streep films, though it wasn't half bad. In fact, it was quite good. But good is all it's trying to be. It's not going for greatness... at least not what I consider cinematic greatness to be. It's just working in a very specific, rather worn out genre that doesn't generally allow for the kind of lyricism and cinematic virtuosity that I prize so highly. Interestingly, Streep and Schepisi's last teaming, Plenty, had quite a bit of that. But this one's a different animal entirely.

The film lets you know what it is right away. It doesn't mince words. During the main titles, it asserts: "This is a true story." No "based on." No "inspired by." The story you're about to see is TRUE. It belongs squarely in the realm of "true crime" human interest dramas... "dramatizations" of real-world events. Putting aside the fact that no dramatization can be completely true, and shouldn't really present itself as such, there is an admirable straightforwardness in the film's bold assertion. It's also very much in keeping with the "no bullshit" approach taken throughout. Schepisi's all about getting to the meat of the story; he wastes no time getting to the inciting event, and chugs full-speed-ahead from then on.

One negative effect of this approach is the lack of much character development on the periphery. We are with Streep's Lindy and Neill's Michael throughout, and no one else really registers as a fleshed out character. But a positive effect of this tightness is a real sense of focus, and fast pace. The drama is always gripping, even if it's never terribly deep. The heated courtroom exchanges often make this feel like an early episode of The Practice (to me, that's a good thing), and there's ample satire of media coverage of court cases and the public's eagerness to eat it up.

Overall, the film is a worthwhile and absorbing drama, eminently watchable on first viewing, though not especially well suited to a second. Once you get past the novelty of Streep's thick dialect and the sensationalism of the courtroom drama, there's not much left to feast on (I have indeed watched it twice, once last year after my failed attempt at Out of Africa, and once just recently).

The film is a real showcase for Streep, and to a lesser extent for Sam Neill, who plays her pastor husband. The two stars still have great chemistry, and show sides of themselves not featured in other roles. Unfortunately, it's essentially a two-man show. It is an important retelling of fascinating real-world events, packed with thrills, suspense and emotion, but compared to the other films in this marathon, I don't think it's all that special. It's totally worth seeing for Streep alone, but probably worth seeing only once.

Streep Review: This is one of Meryl's more famous performances, mostly for the accent and the killer catchphrase ("A dingo ate my baby! A dingo ate my baby!"). But don't be fooled, there's more to the performance than the accent and the catchphrase. This feels like one of Streep's earthier and more lived-in perfs, even though the character is one of her colder and less sympathetic creations. That she managed to make Lindy so cold and alien and yet so earthy and human is another testament to Streep's great skill. It's easy to see why jurors would get an unpleasant opinion of Lindy from her steely reserve in public, but Lindy's no Miranda Priestly; we always see her vulnerability and pain even in her coldest moments.

The thing I found most striking about Streep in this film is actually the hair. Streep seems like a totally new person underneath what I assume to be a very good wig. Streep's hair has never been so stark and so shapely (except perhaps for when she donned the Miranda wig), and the severe hair only accentuates her already severe, angular features, making her seem almost alien at times. It's a stark contrast from the warmth and cuddliness she displays in films like Postcards, Prairie and Music of the Heart (what many consider to be the "real" Meryl).

And then of course, there's the accent. Australian is notorious for being one of the most difficult dialect variants of the English language, and this is the only time (I believe) Streep has done it. I don't consider myself qualified to comment on just how perfect a job she did (I don't live in Australia), but for me at least, the dialect was convincing. Having seen Streep do many, many accents by now, I've developed a pretty keen sense of whether she's doing them right, and while there were a few moments when things didn't seem quite in synch and you could hear some Streep-speech, I thought overall she did a very good job. There is of course the issue of Lindy's unique dialect, too, so saying Streep's Australian was not pitch-perfect is not really a valid criticism. Still, I'm no expert on the different between Aussie and Kiwi, so I'll stop trying to overanalyze. But suffice it to say... I've seen worse from Streep in the accent department... and even that wasn't really that bad.

In short: she deserved her oscar nomination. As usual. NEXT.

Next in the marathon: She-Devil

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Blogger Kamikaze Camel said...

Apparently the real Lindy Chamberlain has said that Miranda Otto's performance was more like the real her, but I can't vouch for that either way as I didn't watch the Otto film 2 years back, nor has Evil Angels been released on DVD here (shockingly).

Meryl's accent does get mocked quite a lot as does the film although at the time it was quite big, my fellow isolated Australians probably were intrigued by what an American would do.

BTW, Evil Angels was indeed it's Australian title and I believe IMDb was just correcting their page. I mean, they have the spanish-language title for Spanish films and all that, so I think they just changed it to the title of the country that actually made the movie.

4:31 AM  
Blogger adam k. said...

Yikes, I am still tinkering with the post, stop looking at it! This one was harder to do, cause I had less to say, and cause there's a lot of less in the way of pics from the film online.

I read somewhere that in an interview, Lindy had said "only Meryl Streep" could have played her properly. Guess she changed her mind.

Yes, Evil Angels is the Australian title, but why was it changed anyway? I feel like since it's A Cry in the Dark in every other English-speaking country, maybe that name should take precedence. I get why IMDB keeps foreign titles the way they are, but it's not like Evil Angels is foreign and not translated properly. It's just a different name. And frankly, I don't think it makes much sense as a name for the film... though I guess the book was called that for some reason.

How has this not yet been released in its country of origin??? Australia sucks.

4:51 AM  
Blogger adam k. said...

OK, now it's done. So you can look at it.

5:03 AM  
Blogger Kamikaze Camel said...

When I was doing my awards if I needed a picture of a certain scene/actor in a film that I couldnt find online I'd actually go on YouTube and take screengrabs. There was, surprisingly, a lot of A Cry in the Dark stuff on there.

3:13 AM  
Anonymous Brian Tristam Williams said...

A Cry in the Dark is my favourite film of all time. That poster you have up there is a scan of one of mine!

IMDb was retarded in changing the name. They're treating it like a foreign film, so they give it the name used in the native country. However, it so wasn't a foreign film - Meryl Streep was nominated for a best actress Oscar in '89, and it wasn't in the "Foreign" category! I can't even find Evil Angels available anywhere in Australia.

Chamberlain was also played by Elaine Hudson in 1983's Who Killed Baby Azaria? I don't have a pic, but I've got that movie on VHS. I should make a screen grab. But here she is on the bottom-right, much older tho: Elaine Hudson

And now, for your viewing pleasure, I present Lindy, Meryl and Miranda saying, "the dingo's got my baby!"




p.s. If you need images from the film, I have a stash of scans here.

5:20 AM  

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