There isn’t a movie buff out there who would argue that Meryl Streep is a bad actress. There probably isn’t even one who would argue she’s only good. The fact is she’s great. She always has been and she continues to impress year after year. Her yearly nominations in awards shows of all types are all wholly deserved. The same can be said for her performance in The Iron Lady. She is phenomenal and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her clutching an Oscar a couple months from now. That said, the movie is awful. It’s so bad on so many different levels, it boggles the mind. It may very well be the worst movie I’ve ever seen with a truly phenomenal, applaud worthy performance. Meryl Streep is fantastic. Everything else is rubbish.
Streep plays Margaret Thatcher, the first Prime Minister of England. The film, in the loosest and strangest way possible, traces the steps through her life, from a young adult with dreams of political grandeur to the old maid she became. Though a biopic in nature, The Iron Lady tries to be more. Director Phyllida Lloyd, whose only other notable feature is Mamma Mia!, doesn’t trust in the inherent intrigue of such a life and tries to spice up Thatcher’s story with premonitions of her dead husband and child, panicked zooms, slow motion, extremely out-of-place canted camera angles that serve no metaphorical or narrative purpose and pretty much every other over-stylized technique in the book, including an awkward shot where Thatcher floats down the hall while a crowd of people walk behind her. The pizzazz is misplaced. Add some scary music and half of this movie could play as horror.
What The Iron Lady really boils down to is a brilliant performer at the top of her game in front of the camera and a pretentious director behind it. The movie is over-stylized nonsense, a visual mess. But its problems exist in every other facet too, including the terrible editing where it would be too much of a compliment to say it doesn’t have a good flow (that would imply it has a flow at all). There are multiple cuts between past and present, some of which give no indication the switch was even made, and there are multiple moments where a time lapse happens, but the audio stays the same. Take, for instance, an early scene where young Thatcher’s point of view (and thus, position in the room) changes while her father’s words continue uninterrupted. These are rookie mistakes and they pervade the entire film.
To see those mistakes, however, you’d first to have to get past the writing, which is heavy laden with unbelievable and grating dialogue. Thatcher, a powerful figure and intelligent (though controversial) woman, comes off as a joke in the film, always speaking in “speech,” as if she’s addressing a crowd or nation. Even when she goes to the doctor’s office for a check-up, she goes off on an unnecessary rant made all the more laughable given that she’s in a patient’s robe. By the time, you get to the end, you’ve already stopped caring (if you ever did at all), but the movie still manages to amaze by offering a silly, stupid, inane conclusion to the premonition plot thread.
The Iron Lady is dry, bland, slow, boring, pretentious, over-stylized, grating, amateurish and pretty much every other negative adjective in between with one shining star in the middle. As much as she deserves it, Streep’s shoe-in awards nominations will only give the film more exposure and lead more people to watching it, wasting precious hours in their short lives. Perhaps, just this once, we should ignore the power of Streep and let her movie fade into oblivion. We'll be doing the world a favor.
The Iron Lady receives 1/5