By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The lowest, most despicable excuse for a human on the entire planet . . . No, wait, that's my introduction for Osama bin Laden. Let me start again. The most exalted purveyor of cinematic art on the entire planet, Meryl Streep loves her craft almost as much as everyone else loves her craft. Even if you think Sophie made the wrong choice, you have to admit Meryl's made all the right ones, veering from melodrama to farce, from Danish to Australian, from male rabbi to an ant, for chrissake, with an effortlessness that obviously takes a shitload of work and dedication.
At the Film Society of Lincoln Center's tribute to Streep last week, all manner of bright lights paid homage to her with volcanic spewings of admiration mixed with healthy smatterings of insouciance. Rivetingly weird Christopher Walken gushed, "Meryl can do cartwheels in a big dress!" Impressively placid Robert Redford swore, "She could play the Brooklyn Bridge!" (Or, even better, she could make you buy it.) Ethereal Uma Thurman—who, I'm sure you all remember, co-starred with Meryl in something called Prime—decided that the multiple Oscar winner is "a normal person just like you and me, only much, much better." And Tribeca's own Robert De Niro was unexpectedly funny, saying, "I don't remember ever sleeping with her. Though . . . " (Thoughtful pause as the crowd screamed with laughter.)
But not a whole lot of dirt was flung Meryl's way, this being a gala tribute and all. In fact, the most damning thing about the woman, apparently, is that she's hopelessly pleasant. According to Redford—who wisely never specifically mentioned Lions for Lambs—"Part of her is really out to lunch. She has this constant smile on her face. You think, 'Doesn't she know she's an actor and we're tortured?' She knows and enjoys something that we don't know." We tried to find out what it is by watching a battery of clips bathing us in Meryl's greatness and range, ending with a Mamma Mia! scene of her belting "The Winner Takes it All" while Pierce Brosnan competes with the scenery to be noticed. And then our star emerged onstage with that smile on, to assure us: "An actor is nothing! NOTHING!" Yeah, sure, honey, now take your award and go back to your legendary life.
Now, at last, I can use my original intro: The most despicable excuse for a human on the entire planet is the subject of Morgan Spurlock's documentary, Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?, a decent try which might have worked better with Ali G at the helm or as a three-minute Daily Show segment (though then you couldn't have ended with Spurlock's moral: Most of our imagined enemies are actually nice people! Like Meryl Streep!). As the Super Size Me creator travels around the Middle East looking for the world's most wanted man—no, not Brad Pitt—he unearths lots of yakking about what's right and wrong withboth sidesof the war on terror, though the film's main hero ends up being his own white lady love. As Spurlock said at the premiere, "There aren't many wives who, when you say 'I'm gonna go look for bin Laden,' would say, 'Sure, go ahead.' "And she was pregnant!
The marital institution is scrutinized in the kitchen-sink musical A Catered Affair, in which middle-class people sing their feelings while dutifully making the bed and wiping dishes. Tom Wopat falls asleep during one of the songs—his character, that is. Still, the show's dramatic throughline develops some steam (and not just from the tea kettle), and it's lovely to have an antidote to jukebox musicals and Disney shows, especially one with the luminous Faith Prince and the fabulous Leslie Kritzer. I'm just not sure that a small tale about whether a girl should have a big wedding or not screamed out to be musicalized, especially since—spoiler alert—she doesn't have it! Writer/actor Harvey Fierstein adds star power as the raspy uncle who openly describes himself as "a wee bit bent" and talks to a wedding planner about "my people." Would such a gay exist in the Bronx in the '50s? I don't know. I wasn't there, believe it or not. (I was way over in Brooklyn, where most "confirmed bachelors" were practically shot on sight.) But if Harvey says so, I'll have to go with it. Whenever I've criticized him before, it's always turned out he's as right as black pumps are with a halter top.
At the show's lavish opening-night party at the Hilton—the wedding you don't get in the show—I became family with Kathie Lee Gifford, who turns out to be even more fun than Meryl Streep. I totally ate crow—along with the buffet—while talking theater with Kathie Lee as if we were long-lost BFFs. Turns out we both liked Grey Gardens a little more than Spring Awakening, about which she said, "Not every kid is that miserable!" And we agreed that Patti LuPone is astounding in Gypsy. ("Polish the Tony right now," advised Kathie Lee.) But the revival I'm really panting for, I told her, is Equus with Daniel Radcliffe. "Why?" wondered Kathie Lee. "Well, what's the show about?" I prodded. "Oh!" she exclaimed, getting it and laughing. "So you're saying he's hung like a horse!" Uh-huh. Significant pause. "I don't need to know that Harry Potter is hung like a horse!"