He Said/She Said: Meryl Streep or Catherine Zeta-Jones? EW critics Lisa Schwarzbaum and Owen Gleiberman agree on who should win Best Supporting Actress -- but who WILL win is another story

By Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated February 21, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
He Said She Said Illustration by Eric Palma

EW’s critics seek a winner: Streep or Zeta-Jones?

February 19, 2003 10:02 AM
Since we’re talking about the nominees for Best Supporting Actress today, Owen, now’s as good a time as any to confess: I can’t tell the difference between Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger in ”Chicago,” can you? I mean, I think they both hoof like mad, and they certainly give it the old razzle-dazzle. I know Zellweger — who’s up for Best Actress — is supposed to have the main role as an innocent kewpie turned murderer turned wily actress who learns how to use the media to her advantage; I know that Zeta-Jones is going along with the campaign-strategy fiction that she’s in the supporting role of a never-innocent showgirl turned murderer who has always known how to use the media to her advantage. But honestly, to me they’re interchangeable racehorses.

In fact, almost everyone In ”Chicago” works like show ponies — and that includes Queen Latifah and Richard Gere. And as a result, for all the splashy work they do, the movie isn’t an actors’ picture, but rather a showman’s picture: It’s all about music, choreography, costume, and all that jazz. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed ”Chicago” plenty as a shinier, warmer, less threatening, more ingratiating version of the spikier, more pointed Broadway musical on which it’s based. (Proof that the film version was softened: They left out the knowing, cynical song ”Class”!) But with the exception of John C. Reilly, who’s blessedly uninterested in showmanship for its own sake, there’s no one in that cast who’s memorable for me.

There, I’ve gotten that out of my system. But what I really wanted to tell you is this: Much as I love Kathy Bates’ performance in ”About Schmidt,” the stand-out in this category for me is Meryl Streep in ”Adaptation.” Yes! The enduring Ms. Streep! She’s so loose, so juicy, and so swingin’ as a sophisticated New York magazine writer who falls under the sway of a toothless Florida orchid fancier that she seems to shed years and cares as the film unfolds. Her performance snuck up…and charmed the petals off me.