… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…
Sunday night saw a classic Hollywood dustup at the Golden Globes, as award-winning actor Meryl Streep went toe to toe in a diss-fight with well-known fellow actor, Donald Trump. Readers, here at Paste, we play no favorites, not even with our children: may the strongest win. We have been known to pit reporters against swift-footed horses and given the prime writing spots to whomever has come out on top. To this day, the humans have won—just barely, though.
We of the press take our job seriously: all human conflicts must be broken down into simple narratives of victory and defeat. In other words, we need to decide a winner. It’s our public duty, and we aim to fulfill it bigly. We decided to use science, magic, and a combination of the two we’re calling “scagic” to understand who to root for in this bare-knuckled bone-crunching breakdance between an Academy Award-winning performer and a guy who once talked about his penis on international broadcast.
For this reason, and this reason alone, have I quit writing my “Prayer of Jabez” fanfiction—my greatest pleasure in this mortal life—and turned to this crucial issue. The only way to determine the victor in the quiet riot of snap and counter-snap is to do what the ancients in Athens did: compare filmographies and decide on this basis who deserves to be listened to. Here, then, is a studied comparison between the greatest roles of these two leading ladies.
1. STREEP: Francesca, The Bridges of Madison County
In this strange movie, Streep gives a compelling performance as an Italian war bride who falls in love with Clint Eastwood’s character, a photographer of some kind. This film was both a critical and commercial success despite the fact that the film barely mentions the bridges, which is what I—and I assume most Americans—came to the theatre to see. That disqualified the rest of the film for me, except for Streep’s performance. Look, we’ve got to talk about this. Naming a movie about important bridges in an important county, and then barely talking about them, is just like riding your bicycle no-handed. It’s lovely but I hate you for it. (A+)
2. TRUMP: Waldo’s Dad, The Little Rascals
In 1994, after Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Trump, facing a downturn in his career, took an important risk by reaching for the crucial Depression-era-kid demographic. In a puckish, self-aware turn as Waldo’s rich weird monster Dad, Trump seems to turn to us, the audience, and whisper, coquettishly, “I see I have attracted your gaze. You came here to watch the Little Rascal, but as you see now, who am I, but the Biggest Rascal of all?” As it turned out, time would prove him right. (A+)
3. STREEP: Joanna, Kramer vs. Kramer
Hey Meryl, slow down on the comedies! Va-va-voom! In this laugh-a-minute chucklepalooza, Streep plays the fiancé of Christopher Walken, who must struggle with questions of masculinity, life, and the war. Wait, no, that’s The Deer Hunter, which Streep is also in. Well, in this movie featuring divorce as the central character, Streep turns what could have been a one-note turn into a full-fledged role. If this had been a Peanuts special, it would have been titled “War Changes a Man, Charlie Brown,” and boy, does it ever. Wait, wait, I’m thinking of The Deer Hunter again. Sorry. Anyway, unlike Mamma Mia, there are no singing or dancing parts of the movie, but there should have been. For that reason, despite Streep winning her first Oscar for this movie, I’m going to have to rank it lower in the Streep canon than the movie where the dingoes ate her baby. Also, it should be noted that this movie features Dustin Hoffman, who ruined everything for everyone. (A+)
4. TRUMP: Himself, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
This. This is the role that turned an ordinary billionaire into the walking acting masterclass millions love today. What can I say about this godly film which has not been repeated in all caps in countless Internet weed-related forums? I’m looking for a word here: it begins with “T” and ends with “E” and guess what, for once that world isn’t “tentacle,” it’s “true.” Which is the kind of idiot you’d have to be to miss this film. In this narrative, we see the collision of two giant meteors: hotel owner Donald Trump and Kevin McCallister, a kid abandoned by his family. As later sequels would reveal, Kevin would channel that rage against abandonment into a career as a trap-setting, trap-building assassin-for-hire. Well, okay, maybe that’s just a story I came up with, but the question remains: what would this movie have been without Donald J. Trump? A documentary about a confused young man trying to make it on his own in the big city. They’ve already made a film like that. You might remember it as Taxi Driver. Because absent Trump to show him the way through the hotel lobby, that’s exactly what Kevin would have done. (A+)
5. STREEP: Sophie, Sophie’s Choice
The last review got dark quickly, but not nearly as dark as this flick does. In this 1982 drama based on the novel by William Styron, Streep plays a Polish-Catholic woman who lost her children in a terrible tragedy. At the age of thirty-three, Streep had attained such perfection in her craft that her accent work alone transcended the achievements of many of her peers. She won her second Academy Award for this performance. If she had died the next year, this alone would have made her an immortal. Little did we know we had three decades of stellar work to follow. Premiere Magazine, on its list of the three greatest performances of all time, put Streep’s Sophie at number three. But if Streep was such a celebrity, why didn’t she appear in Celebrity, as herself? (A+)
6. TRUMP: Himself, Celebrity
As if to prove a point, Trump invades the film frame as the most far-out character of all, a confused billionaire, in Woody Allen’s Celebrity. This movie, starring Kenneth Branagh as Woody Allen kissing Charlize Theron, was filmed in black and white, as if to demonstrate how long Allen could keep doing Manhattan. Like a state prison in the ‘30s, Celebrity is filled with big-time heartthrobs and distasteful dreams. Is Trump’s performance the TV show Seinfeld? Because it’s a gift that keeps on giving, long after it died and ceased to matter to modern humans. I cannot justify giving this movie an A plus. (A+)
7. STREEP: Susan Orlean, Adaptation
Remember what I said about how great I said Streep was above? Well, take that garbage and burn it in a garbage fire, because it was a feeble lie in the light of Adaptation, where she plays Susan Orlean, the writer of the article that the movie was based on. It’s a postmodern meta-meta-switcheroo and, surprise, Meryl Streep is also playing the author of this feature, Jason Rhode, who is, in fact, Meryl Streep, at this very moment, typing these words. I’d like to thank me, Meryl Streep playing Jason Rhode, for writing such a great role for me, Meryl Streep, to play. Oh God, what am I doing? I’m the world’s greatest living actress, I can’t break character! Okay, back to the script. Meryl was great in this movie. (A+)
8. TRUMP: Himself, Zoolander
You know who else was great? A character by the name of Hansel. Unfortunately, that role was already selfishly taken by the blonder one of the Wilson brothers, so the Orangeman had to settle for playing himself, once again. It’s a nice sign of the guy’s humility as a performer that he deigns to appear in movies that aren’t named after him. Would you, or I, be so humble? After all, Obama’s upcoming Netflix biopic is called Barry. By contrast, Trump played Trump in a movie named about another guy, a fictional guy. What a trouper! Here, he gives us another classic Donald performance, standing on his hind legs and generally pumping blood through his miles of veins in a very human way. There is definitely footage of him breathing and blinking his eyes in a way which even the Victorians would have called “accurate”—before they started screaming at the idea of moving, lifelike beings being projected on a screen. (A+)
Final Result: A TIE.
In other words, it’s a draw. However, Streep has kissed Clint Eastwood, and none of us, including Trump, has ever come close, no matter how much we try. Therefore, we declare Streep the WINNER, just barely. If, at a future time, Donald ever makes out with the Man Who Talks To Chairs, then we, the hundred-man jury of Paste, will reconsider our judgement. As a rapper first, comedian second, father fourth, I’ve got a lot of time to think about this.
Reading their filmographies, we can discover, if I may use so brute a term, a gentle rivalry extending back over the decades: move, and countermove. Pounce, and counter-pounce. Streep does Out of Africa, Trump does Playboy videos. Trump does Top Gear USA, an episode titled “Supercars,” and Streep ups the game with August: Osage County. Watching these two virtuosi duel at a distance, I felt I at last knew what life truly was. What I was watching on screen were not curious cat videos, but a seesaw of method acting and emotions erupting from face-prisons. Remember that scene in Deliverance with dueling banjos? Well it was that, but the banjos were my heart. Just go with it, Reader.
Like non-aligned citizens during the Cold War, we all are held hostage in this conflict. All of us are bystanders to a constantly-escalating war between these two great superpowers. It is unfair of Trump to call Streep “overrated.” If this analysis has shown us anything, it is we, the plebs, who are overrated, and unworthy of being on the same planet as these two great, and equally-talented, actors. Gazing upon the progression of an untrained performer from Queens, as he mounts from triumph to acting triumph, what Streep is critiquing becomes clear. It is Trump, her acting rival, who she argues against.
Honestly, what’s the alternative to this story?
I mean, to think otherwise, you’d have to believe a great artist, who has already given us so much, is now taking on the burden of criticizing the government, because all the people who were supposed to do that fell asleep on the job. Crazy, right? God forbid, that Meryl Streep is the only remaining competent person in public life. That would mean that not just the press, but the pulpit, the political culture, both parties, even the business class, had failed. You’d have to believe that it would fall to actors to criticize the President, because only a beloved actor would have the moral stature to attack the system, since every other failsafe had gone kaput. You’d have to believe in a world where our system selected a man whose moral authority ranked far, far below Hollywood’s. Talk about movies! Talk about fiction! Now, who could believe a story like that?
Jason Rhode is on Twitter.