Friday, September 04, 2009

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.


Anonymous said...

I agree about Amy Adams: i saw her in Julie/Julia.

She made me cry in one of her first scenes around the table with friends describing food. She's astounding.


Anonymous said...

i would love to have you write me a wedding poem
just need to find the 'right man'!
keep a good thought, will 'ya?

Anonymous said...

I used to be a divorce lawyer. Once I represented a woman whose husband was divorcing her because she had gotten pregnant by their Catholic parish priest. She had gone to the priest for marriage counseling and the dirt bag seduced her.

I expect the priest to be some kind of hottie, like Richard Chamberlain in the Thornbirds. But this priest, who had several affairs with women all at the same time and who had gotten other women pregnant, was much less attractive than the Phillip Seymour Hoffman version of Father Flynn. The guy was repulsive, and my client, who believed herself in love with him, had initially seen the priest as respulsive . . . I think one reason that a priest's violation of a parishioner, adult or child, is possible is because the parishioner/sinner comes to the priest in his role as God's medium. The parishioner, adult or child, is attracted to the priest's putative godliness. Many think priests are closer to god, that priests and other religious like nuns, are holier than ordinary folks. . the ones who violate people's faith are predators, wolves in sheep's clothing.

Trust me, alison, they aren't all cuties the way you imagined them when you read the play. The priest that knocked up my old divorce client, who was already a mother of four other children, he was fat, bald, greasey, his glasses were thicker than coke bottles.

Phillipp Seymour Hoffman looked perfect as Father Flynn to me.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever thought of becoming a film critic? I think you'd be terrific at it!
Love, Em

Alison said...

I would LOVE to be a film critic, but I don't know exactly how you go about doing that. But thanks for the vote of confidence!


Anonymous said...

Why don't you send a copy of this blog post, as well as several others about films to your local paper. What have you got to lose?
Your admiring little sister