merylfest: DOUBT (2008)
Continuing with the host of recent Streep efforts being featured here in Merylfest, I give you Doubt – a fairly exceptional stage-to-screen adaptation from John Patrick Shanley. Meryl plays Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the stone-cold head mistress of St. Nicholas School in 1964. The plot follows Sister Aloysius as she attempts to unearth the truth about Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his relationship with a young student. First thing’s first, I very much enjoyed this performance. It’s great to see Meryl as a tower of strength, and that head-to-head scene with Hoffman alone is bone-chilling. I understand that much of the scenes would probably be much more effective on stage, but Streep is believable as the staunch activist who’s in over her head.
I know that critics seemed to agree that the film was only okay, but I’ll be the first to admit that I rather enjoyed it – I’m fairly certain I’d place it on my top 10 of 2008. Now, the depth of praise the film received as far as accolades went was a little confusing. Oscar nominees Hoffman and Amy Adams both gave awfully by-the-book performances. Yes, I love Amy Adams as much as the next person, but you can’t tell me this was one of the five best supporting actress performances of the year. Rachel Getting Married alone can provide at least two viable alternatives. And even though the true scene stealer is Viola Davis, as the boy in question’s mother, she only has one scene to steal. So Sister Aloysius is left to impress throughout the duration.
From the scenes in which she clutches crucifixes dramatically to the ones in which she simply harshly disciplines students for their shenanigans, Streep’s nun is one of subtle depth. It’s awfully intriguing imagining what it was that formed this woman’s personality and psyche. Chalk that up to Shanley’s excellent character development, combined with Streep’s fierce tenacity in the character. So please, give Doubt a chance – it’s far better than you remember and it’s a very actorly showcase for Streep and Davis in particular.
Meryl’s Performance: A-
The Film: A-