If you can't beat 'em, cook 'em dinner? That's the route Meryl Streep recently took with a group of prominent female journalists from England, following a screening for her latest film, "The Iron Lady."
Although Streep has been praised for her performance as Margaret Thatcher, some across the Atlantic have expressed consternation over the way the film portrays the former UK prime minister. That hubbub may have led to the decision to host a personal screening and dinner party (with food cooked by Streep herself) on Nov. 12, 2011. Unfortunately, the evening seemed more awkward than auspicious. As the New Yorker's Lauren Collins stated, after the screening:
"Streep plied the journalists with chicken curry and an American apple pie; she smoked in the garden, gossiped about face-lifts, did the dishes ... But the evening had its awkward moments. 'Somebody with massive, detailed knowledge of the events in Thatcher's time would sort of sniffily say, 'Well, that's not the way things were,' and then we'd kind of all stare at our chicken curry and somebody would eventually defuse the tension,' [writer India] Knight recalled.
So did the ploy work? Were the attendees swooning over Streep or the film in any of their reviews? Collins names a few of the invited journalists: Knight, Liz Hoggard, and Suzanne Moore. Hoggard ended up writing about the Streep dinner experience a few days later in the London Evening Standard, where she named additional attendees: Polly Toynbee, Janet Street-Porter, and UK broadcasters Jenni Murray, Fi Glover, Edith Bowman and Lauren Laverne.
For Hoggard, it appears the evening did little to convince her "The Iron Lady" was good: "Other elements of the film are cartoonish and unsettling: where is the rational, indignant opposition to Thatcher's policies? ... You could easily lose patience with the frantic plotting." However, Hoggard adds that "Streep's performance is so touching. While she is on screen, hostility is suspended. Rather than the political monster of my teenage years, Streep portrays an everywoman battling loss." Hoggard reiterated those feelings in a conversation on the Guardian's website with Peter Lilley.
Moore also wrote about the event, calling it a "brilliant PR move," while stating the film was "hard to swallow." She did, however, praise Streep's "magnificent performance because it humanises [sic] a politician many of us find monstrous." As Collins stated in the New Yorker, there were those who voiced concerns about the film during the soiree, Moore being one of them:
"I tried to explain [to Meryl's daughter, who was at the dinner] what privatisation [sic] meant, how everything now flows from the Thatcherite view of selfish individualism rather than collectivity.That she divided the world into us and them. And if you were one of them, she would squash you ... Did this lovely young American understand? How could she?"
Polly Toynbee, on the Guardian's Politics Weekly podcast, admitted to seeing the film in rather odd circumstances, although she didn't specify that Streep actually cooked her and her fellow journalists dinner afterward. While Polly "thoroughly dislik[ed]" the movie, she also curiously praised both Meryl and director Phyllida Lloyd: "Meryl Streep was brilliant and it was beautifully directed."
While Street-Porter didn't write about the film directly, she did mention it in a Daily Mail piece about women refusing to look their age.
"Meryl Streep, who is riveting as Maggie Thatcher with dementia in 'The Iron Lady,' knows all about what happens to an actress as she gets older," wrote Street-Porter. "I had dinner with Meryl recently, and she looked fabulous -- with glowing skin, fine hair and a ready smile. Her grace and charm come from within -- and she has three beautiful grown-up daughters. She's a rarity in the film business: a woman who can still take a leading role in her 60s."
Jenni Murray ended up interviewing Meryl Streep on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, where she spoke to the actress about the process of becoming Margaret Thatcher. The general discussion yielded no mention of the screening and dinner.
Reviews by Knight, Bowman, Glover or Laverne do not appear online.
So what does this all mean? Unfortunately, nothing groundbreaking. Studios hosting extravagant screenings, press junkets or other random publicity events are a part of the business (full disclosure: The Weinstein Company hosted a screening of "The Iron Lady" for staffers of Moviefone's parent company, The Huffington Post Media Group), and they deserve complete transparency from the journalists invited to cover them. Sometimes they oblige, as in the cases of Hoggard and Moore; sometimes they don't (Toonbe and Street-Porter, perhaps). Regardless, it's clear that Streep is pushing for her first Oscar win in 29 years with gusto -- or at least a piece of pie.