Don’t Doubt that Meryl Streep delivers a capital-P Performance (left) while Kate Winslet holds that stare a bit too long in The Reader.
DOUBT directed by John Patrick Shanley, adapted by Shanley from his play, with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. A Miramax release. 122 minutes. Opens Friday (December 12).
THE READER directed by Stephen Daldry, written by David Hare from the novel by Bernhard Schlink, with Kate Winslet, David Kross and Ralph Fiennes. An Alliance release. 120 minutes. Opens Friday (December 12). For venues and times, see Movies.
For venues and times, see Movies.
I'm beginning to think that what Kate Winslet really needs is a star turn in a movie musical.
It sounds counterintuitive - musicals being so chock full of artifice and all that - but the opportunity to do some heartfelt, silly, exuberant work might do her some good.
She's appeared in precious few comedies and isn't bad when she does (The Holiday and TV series Extras, where she did take the piss out of herself), but she's drifting back to the oh-so serious drama, mainly. While she's working it, she needs to lose those twitches and seriously self-conscious effects she's been perfecting lately.
It worked for Meryl Streep. What's so winning about her performance as the ex-hippie Donna in Mamma Mia! is how gloriously unselfconscious it is. It's Streep au naturel: open, vulnerable and fun, plainly not giving a shit whether she's derided for playing in a sappy, girl-powered ABBA-driven musical comedy. She sure as hell isn't courting Oscar.
Streep's hand-wringing, twitch-filled turn as the suspicious Sister Aloysius in Doubt makes me yearn for Mamma Mia!'s lack of canniness. In the John Patrick Shanley-directed drama, she gives a Performance with a capital P.
There's lots that's terrific about it. Forget about Pauline Kael's famous put-down of La Streep. "I can't visualize her from the neck down," Kael once wrote (a line almost always misquoted as "She only acts from the neck up"). Streep's taken Donna's fabulous physicality and turned it inward. Her Sister Aloysius is permanently clenched, literally, with hands clasped around her cross close to her chest. Even her wizened face has that pickle-up-the-bum look.
At the same time, she keeps us so busy watching her acting - every stutter in a line, every shift of her eyes - that there's a risk of losing track of the story.
Winslet's performance in The Reader as a 16-year-old's older lover with a dark past comes perilously close to that same kind of calculation. Eyes widen hysterically, stares are vacant for too long. There's even a German accent - more shades of Streep, who, by the way, does New York Bronx in Doubt. Winslet's accent seems weirdly pointless, since she's the only one in The Reader who has one.
Where Streep has been perfecting the silent treatment in her recent roles (The Devil Wears Prada, major moments in Doubt) where she can do those tricks with her eyes, Winslet (see also the soon-to-be-released Revolutionary Road) has been going the other way, turning into a major screechmeister.
She really does need to relax.
I still think that, with Cate Blanchett as her main competition, Winslet is the best female screen actor of her age.
Call her the Meryl Streep of her generation. Now let's see a new screen version of Guys And Dolls, with Winslet as Miss Adelaide.