Monday, December 29, 2008

When I saw the trailer for Doubt, I smacked my lips: it looked like an (un)holy combination of Agnes of God meets Notes From a Scandal, a mix of religio-mystic hokum and melodrama. Sad to say, Doubt was a lot worse. This farrago, adapted by and from John Patrick Shanley's play, lacks the basic mechanics of filmmaking to bring off Shanley's wisps of ideas. His idea of "opening up" his play is to visually dramatize a parable that Philip Seymour Hoffman tells (it involves the feathers from an opened pillowcase flying in the wind, of course). Ambiguities that might have teased onstage look like cop-outs on screen: is Hoffman a pedophile? Is the student gay? What are Amy Adams' motivations? Shanley's inspiration for this turgidly paced nonsense seems anachronistic: the manner in which he develops his ideas could have come from some 1950's conception of "provocative" subject matter (think Picnic, with William Holden in a wimple). Only Viola Davis comes closest to presenting something human and terrible onscreen, but if Shanley wanted real fireworks – real tragedy – why did he bury Davis' revelations in the middle of the movie instead of moving it to the beginning, where they would have forced the audience to reckon with them over the next ninety minutes? A similar eye-opener of a fact about Streep's personal life is mentioned once, an aside almost, and it changes not a bit of our understanding of her. Stephanie Zacharek: "Have no earthly idea what point Shanley is trying to make? It's all good -- you're just having Doubt."

5 comments:

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...

Woops...try that again...

Other sins the film commits <--see what I did there:

(1) The arbitrary canted angles. PLEASE STOP.

(2) Lightning and thunder used to emphasize important lines. WTF.

(3) Awful child acting.

(4) The "old nun" who seems to be wasting away tragically but haw haw haw it's kinda funny too...

(5) Lightbulb exploding in big flash twice, without emphasizing particularly important lines of dialogue.

(6) Meryl Streep wielding her cross, her gardening tool, and her lightbulb changer as a weapon.

(7) Calling the whole thing "DOUBT," so that every time someone says "doubt" the audience (at least the one I was in) giggles a little.

Anyway, I don't think there's anything about "doubt" in this film that seemed that relevant to what the movie seemed to actually be about. I mean, if it was an allegory for something other than the Catholic church's unique patriarchy, they sure chose a loaded story to tell, one that isn't really that appliclable to anything BUT the Catholic church. Which I kind of liked in its small way, but it sure did seem like a Story That Was Trying to Say Something, which it didn't. The ambiguity is a cop-out, but anyway (spoiler alert) I think Meryl had a fairly convincing case. But yeah, if this is really a film about pedophilia in the church, that revelation from the mom needed to happen much earlier than it did, so that we didn't just retroactively realize that everything Hoffman says in the movie is supposed to sound like wishy-washy pseudo-progressive bullshit. Except I don't think they intended it to come off that way, so consider that (8). Was actually pleasantly surprised by Streep's not-as-caricaturey-as-expected performance.

Susi said...

I saw Doubt a couple days ago and I'm STILL trying to figure out what the plot was! Whose story were we supposed to be following: Sister James, Al's or the father's? It felt like there was a producer somewhere in there going, "Wow! We've got this great ensemble cast that's just screaming Oscar! Forget supporting roles - hell, forget story telling - let's give them all heady monologues and equal screen time to up our nominations!"

Also, I have no clue what the mother admits to Sister Al in their hyper dramatic banter-off since their loudness overwhelmed my comprehension. This could've been a great movie had they tightened and polished their script more instead of indulging in character quirks and way too vague to conjure suspense scenes. Fail.

Sally Belle said...

Fantastic post...I agree with it all.

Also...Dave's comments, so perceptive and right on.

Criticlasm said...

The movie works more as a 4 character play. The point in the play is quite clear, and you're unsure who to believe or back, and it becomes about the blind certainty of faith and rigidity. Opening it up, the whole thing is off kilter (as I think was PSH's perf, which took away most of the priest's own torturedness until the end). I think the whole situation was probably too complicated for the Streep's character to get in 1964 (priest gay, probably sees gay child and wants to protect him), but that was somewhat diluted opening up the play to a larger scope and world. The ideas fell apart and the Doubt becomes about the audience's Doubt of the movie, sadly.