Doubt And Frost/Nixon

Ken AshfordTheatre1 Comment

Streep_l The early buzz on these to Broadway-to-big screen movies?

Frost/Nixon, directed by Ron Howard, and starring Frank Langella, is good.

Doubt, starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams, sucks and blows.  The reason, the buzz says, is because John Patrick Shanley (the author) insisted on directing.  Or "overdirecting" according to one critic.  Another critic, after spending paragraphs about the greatness of the play, writes:

And so goes the play. As an allegory, it is a necessary antidote to our own cocksure era, but just as suitable for any civilization across time. Despite its trappings, such themes will never suffer the spoilage of a dated curiosity. The movie, however, is an abomination; a knife to the back of everything the play spoke for and alluded to. In order to conform to the demands of cinema and admittedly mainstream tastes, a wrongheaded “fleshing out” occurred that stripped away mystery, discussion, and yes, doubt itself. The play, wisely, never showed any of the school children. What’s more, we never saw so much as an eyelid of young Donald Muller, the “victim” in question. The play understood that the moment we see the faces of youth, our emotions take over and we side with their cause. We glance at the priest, then back at the child, and without thinking, believe the worst about the adult. We’ve seen too many broken lives to consider anything else. And as soon as the movie begins, we observe detail previously left to the imagination on stage. The early scenes, therefore, play much like Nunsense, or any overworked study of Catholic school life where rulers smack tiny hands and rosaries jingle in the cold halls. Nuns are towering absurdities, unapologetically mean, and they whack the backs of heads whenever they see fit. The kiddies are so fresh-faced and innocent by contrast that the authority figures become oversimplified objects of scorn. Instead of interpreting Sister Aloysius’ words for ourselves (and what they represent), we witness overt behavior that takes away audience agency. It’s the lazy, unconscionable way out.

It’s also important not to see the kids because, well, “whodunit” doesn’t mean a damn thing this time around. Did Father Flynn ply the young man with wine and take off his shirt? If you care about the answer, you’ve already lost the battle. The play didn’t care, but the film seems to, even though the playwright is on board as both screenwriter and director. Is it possible that he gutted his own work for a bit of Hollywood coin?