Monday, March 15, 2010

Streep and Adams

I watched two movies over the last two nights which both starred Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. The first was Julie and Julia, the second, Doubt. The first might be a chick flick, by description, the secondly is a serious adaptation of a seriously successful stage play.
I'd heard some reports about J&J which made me think I didn't want to see it; in fact it turned out to be a delight - well, at least the Meryl Streep part of it did. Amy Adams played a thirtyish woman, rather self-centred, not terribly sure of herself, who is persuaded by her husband to blog about cooking her way through Julia Child's cookbook, in a year.
Streep plays Child about fifty years earlier, at a time when she was trying to find out what she wanted to do with her life. And did find out, most successfully, as it turned out.
There were quite a few connections between the two characters, (both have 'saints' for husbands) who never actually meet in the movie (though there was a hint towards the end that it might happen), and the thing flits back and forth between the two periods with considerable ease.
The revelation of the film, however, is Streep's performance. It could be described as a striking imitation of Child - and everything is there: the awkwardness because of her height, the delicious laugh, the nonsequiters, the mutterings and mumblings, the surprised little noises. But it's much more than an actress playing the part of a person most of us will have seen on TV at some point. Streep thoroughly inhabits the role, so that you seldom think about her 'performing'; she just scoops Child up holus bolus and presents her as she would have been if she herself had made a movie at the time.
Streep has always had an uncanny knack of getting the voice right in a movie - I can still 'hear' her in the Australian film she made about Lindy Chamberlain. She had that accent down pat, and managed to make herself Australian, if that's the word I'm looking for. And she's done it in other movies too. But her Julia Child is a marvel. And the scene with her sister, with both of them full of delight at seeing each other again, and full of fun and full of suggestions that there might be a 'tall' man for the sister to marry (she opts for a small bloke, as it happens) is one of the best scenes in the movie.
Amy Adams has a slightly thankless role; she's never going to get the sympathy Streep gains, and there are scenes where she's required to turn the audience off her. And does.
Her role in Doubt is similar: another slightly self-centred character who's either more naive than she looks, or just a little conniving. I wasn't sure what to think about her. Still, she's a good deal more sympathetic than the Streep character, who is the devil incarnate when she gets going. Sure, she has a couple of sympathy scenes with an elderly nun who's losing her sight, but these are utterly overwhelmed by her sheer awfulness in every other scene. The priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman in an ambiguous role that never quite clarifies where he's at) calls her the Dragon in an early scene. She's far more than that. She's prepared to lose her soul to prove her point, and possibly does.
The story, set in 1964, centres around a large Catholic school run by nuns, with a priest theoretically in charge, but pushed to one side by Sister Aloysius. She doesn't like anything he does, doesn't like his sermons (which are short and punchy), doesn't like his use of a ballpoint pen, his need to have three lumps of sugar in his tea, his longish fingernails, but most of all, his concern for the one black boy in the school. Sister A takes it into her head that the priest is homosexual, and perhaps he is - neither the movie nor Hoffman ever allow it to be definite - and that he's intent on corrupting the boy. She determinedly brings him down - at least as far as her limited realm is concerned (he's given a 'promotion' at another parish, and school) - and makes sure that her control-freak nature is satisfied to the max. But at the end....doubts.
The film has some marvellous sustained scenes lifted directly from the play, I guess, but otherwise is opened out naturally, without any sense that scenes are broken up just for the sake of it. I've seen some of it twice now, and it remained as powerful on a second viewing as on the first.
Incidentally, the Julie character in J&J is described in the credits as being 'now a writer.' Julie
Powell's second book, Cleaving: a Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, which details affairs she had after the first book's publication, as well as her experiences learning the butcher trade, was published November 30, 2009.
So much for her husband the saint....
Photo is of Julie Powell
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