We finally got around to watching the movie Doubt last night, starring Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. (I know, I know, it's lame to be blogging about movies that came out last year, but it's been a slow news week around here. Christopher started back to work and I've been writing poems.)
I loved the play by John Patrick Shanley. It's a stripped down little jewel, a miniature cathedral, perfectly balanced. Everything that's there needs to be there and nothing else. It's a miracle of construction and compression. The movie is by necessity much more open and complex. You get the real sense of a school, kids running around, bells ringing and buzzing, lights failing, blackboards squeaking, people eating and reading and talking and interrupting each other. Of course Streep and Hoffman are wonderful, but I loved the supporting actors even more; Amy Adams as the radiant young nun, and Viola Davis as the mother of a boy at the school.
Adams gave the young nun more intelligence and dignity than I had read into her part when it was just words on the page. You could see her character thinking and feeling; she was so transparent, and yet not silly or easy. Davis just went to a place that was so deep she took my breath away.
By contrast Streep sometimes distracted me with her Streepian mannerisms, her strong Bronx accent, her agitated hands brandishing her crucifix...she went over the top. There was one scene in particular, when she and Hoffman were shouting at each other in her office, the climactic showdown between them, that went on too long, where the weight of the famous stars' technique sort of sank the credibility for me. I know this is blasphemy, and I do love Meryl Streep, but there are a lot of wonderful actors in their fifties and sixties, and I would love to see a less-familiar face. When you're watching Streep you're watching Streep, that's the fun of it, but it takes away from getting lost in the story.
Hoffman was very powerful, but in my mind's eye I had seen Father Flynn as younger, sleeker and more sexy. I thought it was Flynn's eroticism that fueled the feud between him and Sister Aloysius. Hoffman is many things, versatile and powerful and poignant and vulnerable, but he's not sexy. Not. I thought Father Flynn should be the kind of man who would appeal to both men and women; that everyone would want to touch him, draw close to him, even if they didn't understand the source of their attraction.
The movie is visually beautiful and deep. Christopher loved it (and he might disagree with some of my comments about Hoffman, who was wonderful when he delivered sermons, really inspired.) It was fun to share my love for Shanley, whom I feel has been a playwriting teacher to me even though I've never met him. Last year I read my way through everything of his that was in print and learned so much. I envy him his output--dozens of plays, and several movies--and it was fascinating to trace his development as he stretched and contracted to meet the different demands of the various forms.
Yesterday I went to Theron and Elizabeth's house to help them brainstorm their vows and to give them the wedding poem they had requested I write for them. It was an honor to bask in their nuptial glow and to pass on some of the practical ideas Rabbi David shared with us when we were preparing our words.