Advertisement

Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and (ugh) Leap Year

More answers to questions from the email-bag:

5. What are your standards for judging actors?

Advertisement

We're all impressed by the actors who create a new character every time out, from the ground up, in their walk, speech and glance. But we can over-prize these performers, too. Yes, Meryl Streep can be great (she's stunning as the angry, grieving mother in "A Cry in the Dark"). But she can also be terrible -- mannered in comedy, bludgeoning in drama -- and still win Oscar nominations.

An amazing performer such as Amy Adams, who has costarred with Streep in two movies, is often underrated simply because (1) she never lets you see her sweat and (2) she brings more of herself from part to part.

Finding the fresh response in obvious situations has become a specialty for Adams. She broke through with "Junebug" (2005) as a never-say-die beauty with a a baby on the way and a brooding high-school sweetheart for a husband. But Adams had already been breaking hearts and igniting laughs simultaneously for half a decade, starting with the 1999 beauty-pageant parody "Drop Dead Gorgeous." (She plays the contestant who says, "They're never going to let you perform naked -- I asked!") And her bloom hasn't wilted under her recent klieg-lit stardom.

In "Doubt" (2008), while Streep huffs and puffs her way through a drill-sergeant performance as a Catholic-school headmistress, Adams, as a naive teacher, plays kindness with strength and confusion with vividness. In "Julie & Julia" (2009), Streep turns Julia Child into a jovial (and entertaining) human Big Bird, while Adams, as blogger Julie Powell, creates a modest character working to the edge of her limits. For my money, that's a lot more difficult (and rewarding) than Streep's star turn.

No one else has pulled off the heroism and pathos of willed self-esteem the way Adams does in the quirky "Sunshine Cleaning" (2009). And she is a witty whirlwind in "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" (2008), displaying her theatrical flair as a would-be West End headliner.

I was actually beginning to think her indestructible until this weekend.

Then, alas, I caught up with "Leap Year" on DVD. Adams can't transcend the mediocrity of this rote romantic comedy about a professional woman with a life plan who discovers true love with a scruffy, struggling Irish barkeep. It's like a middle-period Sandra Bullock movie.

But it simply sent me back to "Enchanted" (2007), in which Adams gives one of the best performances of the decade as a fairy-tale beauty named Giselle (above) who tumbles down a well in the magic kingdom of Andalusia and ends up peering out from a manhole in Times Square. Adams here is a full-blown romantic whose progress to full-grown romantic is sweet, stirring and blissfully funny.

Do you agree with me that "actor's actors" like Streep often get away with thespian murder? And that actors like Adams can be under-appreciated because they are so naturally...natural? What are your candidates for best Streep or Adams performances?

Advertisement
Advertisement