The Iron Lady Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: January 13, 2012 (Chicago)
PLOT: The rise and fall of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Streep).
WHO'S IT FOR? Sure, you might be a fan of biopics, and maybe you even like movies in general, but there's one big reason you're here: Meryl Streep. If you come to The Iron Lady looking to love Streep even more, you'll be satisfied. Appreciating the reign of Thatcher is second or even third on Iron Lady's objective list.
EXPECTATIONS: Any time Streep's name gets thrown into nomination season hullabaloo, it's always interesting to see just how much the praise is actually warranted. Also, this movie was written by Abi Morgan, who most recently did the sex addiction bummer flick Shame. What could that possibly mean for a biopic?
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher: This is Streep's show. She looks just like Thatcher, and uses a strong accent that could easily come off as natural. In her portrayals of older Margaret, she disappears behind the old age make-up giving her best elderly performance of the year, second to Armie Hammer in J. Edgar (a huge honor, I know). Streep brings her own power to an already powerful woman. The dilemma remains, however, with the script: Do we leave Iron Lady praising Thatcher, or simply the woman who effortlessly brought her to cinematic life? Score: 7
Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher: Broadbent isn't able to make his role of "imaginary husband who is still alive" any less cheesy, but he does have a small giddy goofball charm to him while in such a part. We can see why Margaret would love someone like him, especially with how uninhibited his support is for her. It's just that the story misuses his bright presence. Score: 6
TALKING: The Iron Lady never hesitates to break into long monologues, which are called "Oscar reel moments" in the sarcastic movie critic biz. Some of these speeches from Thatcher (either the young actress playing early Margaret, or Streep) feel heavy-handed, as if their main desire is to be celebrated in bumper stickers and Facebook statuses. Though I am not sure how accurate some speeches are to true events, they stink more of careful screenwriting than a human's improvised and eloquent speaking. Score: 5
SIGHTS: 2011 has been the year of characters seeing dead people - first The Tree of Life, then We Bought a Zoo, and now The Iron Lady. With editing and reserved style, Broadbent's Denis appears gently in some moments with Thatcher, and sometimes not (the introduction to this afterlife relationship is poignant, with Margaret sitting alone at a kitchen table). Iron Lady uses a handful of stock imagery, but the clips mush together, and don't help outsiders much with being able to attain much knowledge from the events, other than they were chaotic. Score: 4
SOUNDS: "Shall We Dance?" from "The King and I" is used sweetly in a couple of occasions to represent the love between Margaret and Denis. Thomas Newman contributes a score of certain elegance. It really shines during the end of the movie, when fast violin strings are running up and down a scale to the rhythm of an immediate march. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: The sequence that involves Margaret's decisions with the Falklands conflict gives the political edge of the movie some chutzpah, and presents her as simply a politician making a tough decision.
ENDING: Margaret frees herself of the past, and moves on to live in her uncertain and quiet future.
QUESTIONS: How accurate is this to the Thatcher story? Is this the best impersonation of Thatcher available? I mean, it's Meryl Streep, so it must be, right?
REWATCHABILITY: There isn't much to take from a second viewing of The Iron Lady. It feels just as sludgy the first time.
While traveling through the rusty golden brick road of the biopic, The Iron Lady chooses the wrong main baggage to carry - a big ol' sack of pity. With its depiction of Prime Minister Thatcher as a delusional and meek elderly woman who just wants to be able to buy milk on her own, The Iron Lady becomes overly sentimental about the situation, instead of providing more clear focus on the events that put Thatcher in a prominent albeit controversial perch in history. Asking audiences to like a character is far less difficult than asking us to pity them. Although, a movie like Moneyball pulled both of these objectives off with more finesse.
Such heavy-handed sappiness makes some of the film difficult to take seriously, and imagine it not as a slick opportunity for Oscar reel moments. Streep, of course, is quite good in the role. This script, as realized by the same director who let the presumably tone-deaf Pierce Brosnan sing in Mamma Mia, wouldn't be half as enticing without Streep. She brings in her own power when this film is overly concerned with moping on a rusty lady.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10