Sophie’s Choice

Year: 1982
Studio: Incorporated Television Company
Director: Alan J Pakula
Producer: Alan J Pakula
Writer: Alan J Pakula/William Styron
Cast: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol

Meryl Streep is just one of those actresses. She takes high quality material like Doubt, Manchurian Candidate) and makes it stellar, and gives passable movies (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Adaptation) a heft of legitimacy way beyond their station.

I'd always thought of Sophie's Choice as an undisputed classic, and every moment Streep is on screen, it is one. She's seldom this beautiful, but she's frequently this good. Every scene, every word has a subtle tic, a nuance, a piece of an invented person that she's studied and made her own. Learning how to speak Polish as she did for the part is only the mechanics of her dedication to a role. Her instinct for portraying someone goes much deeper.

The rest of the film feels like midday movie melodrama by comparison. She plays a concentration camp survivor having got her life back on track in suburban New York after the terrible choice of the title, one you don't learn until near the end as she tells the protagonist Stingo (MacNicol) about her dark history.

Stingo is a virginal, Jack London-type journeyman who's come from the deep south to try and make it as a writer, and he moves into the guesthouse where Sophie and her fiery boyfriend Nathan (Kline, in his debut role) live.

Stingo is us as we learn that Nathan has an awful secret too, but the show is all Streep's. The scenes of the guesthouse and the blossoming friendship between the three are lovely but kind of frivolous, giving nothing away about the heartbreaking story behind Sophie's haunted eyes. It's only when we go into her memories with her as a concentration camp inmate that the film veers into Oscar-winning script territory.

But even if the first acts bore you, Streep is there to light up the whole film, seemingly effortlessly.

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