Cherry Jones‘ opinion of Meryl Streep‘s performance in Doubt differs from that of Variety‘s Todd McCarthy, which was a fairly sharp diss. A Tony Award winner for playing the same role on the Broadway stage, Jones recently told The Envelope‘s Tom O’Neil she “was impressed by how Streep underplayed the nun’s villainy, giving the character more emotional vulnerability.
“To illustrate the difference in their two performances, Jones cited a scene in which Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) fiercely confronts the nun who accuses him of molesting a school boy. Glowering at her, he asks, ‘Have you ever sinned?’
“‘On stage, I stood my ground,’ Jones said. ‘I held my resolve and I fought Father Flynn right back. I didn’t let him break her. This is the play’s big confrontation scene and we played it for maximum dramatic conflict.
“‘But I was fascinated to see that’s not what Meryl Streep does,’ she added. ‘She lets Sister Aloysius crack. She decides to break with the moment. Suddenly, she caves, she’s vulnerable. You think these two might actually come together, that all will be understood and forgiven, but, no. They go right back to fighting. On stage we decided to drive the scene right through.’
Jones, says O’Neil, “doesn’t think one approach is better than the other, just different and in a ‘fascinating’ way. Both performances have one key thing in common, though, she added: ‘There is no question that this nun is intense and doing her duty to protect people she loves.'”
McCarthy felt that Streep’s performance is “disconcerting and unsatisfying” in the way she “overdoes the melodrama, thereby turning Sister Aloysius into more of a stock figure than she ultimately seemed onstage…every little tic, gesture and facial mannerism seems maximized by the effort expended to minimalize them, to diminished returns in the cause of creating a three-dimensional character.”
My view, posted two days ago, was one of admiration for the fact that Streep is “expert at letting you know precisely what’s going on in her hard and damning head is, for me, a trip. She’s almost Mommie Dearest, and I mean that as a genuine compliment. I don’t mean she tries for comedy. The genius of Streep’s performance is that you can take her work as dead straight drama or a hoot, depending on your mood or attitude. What counts is that you can sit there and read her each and every second. There’s never any doubt what she’s thinking, intuiting, suspecting.”