The Help star leads the cast of the stage production as Catherine Sloper, a shy young woman yearning for her wealthy, intimidating father's acceptance, but many theatre critics felt she struggled to make the transformation from a meek girl to a raging woman.
The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney brands the actress "underpowered" and laments her "inconsistency of characterisation", while the New York Post's Elisabeth Vincantelli was disappointed that Chastain failed to bring more fury to the play's most famous line, when Sloper declares, "Yes, I can be cruel. I have been taught by masters!"
Vincantelli writes, "The words should hit us like a hammer. Here, they barely graze."
Chastain's performance - in the role made famous by Olivia de Havilland in William Wyler's 1949 movie adaptation - wasn't a winning one for The New York Times writer Ben Brantley or Newsday's Linda Winer either.
Comparing the revival to Cherry Jones' Tony Award-winning stint in the same role in a 1995 production, Brantley states, "I never felt the urgency of filial and romantic love festering into vengeful hatred, which should inform any production of The Heiress."
But it wasn't all bad for Chastain - Bloomberg News critic Jeremy Gerard applauds her take on Sloper as "close to perfect", and Entertainment Weekly's reviewer gives The Heiress an A grade, writing, "In her Broadway debut, Chastain conveys social discomfort and awkwardness without veering into caricature."
Director Moises Kaufman also took his fair share of criticism - Winer blasts him for his "emotionally simplistic production", while Rooney blames Chastain's mediocre turn on "questionable directorial choices".
The actress' co-stars David Strathairn and Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens enjoyed better reviews, but it was the "sublimely funny" Judith Ivey who garnered the highest praise from the media, putting on a "great" and "delightful" performance as the amused Aunt Lavinia.
The Heiress runs at New York's Walter Kerr Theater until February (13).
The Help will go head-to-head with The Descendants in the Best Motion Picture (Drama) category alongside The Ides of March, Martin Scorsese's Hugo, Steven Spielberg's War Horse, and Moneyball.
The Help also received nods in the Best Performance by an Actress (Drama) category, thanks to Viola Davis, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, for Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer's work.
The Descendants scooped mentions for Best Performance by an Actor (Drama) courtesy of George Clooney, and Best Director for Alexander Payne, and newcomer Shailene Woodley garnered a nod for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role.
Silent film The Artist scored nominations for Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Best Director (Michel Hazanavicius), Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role (Berenice Bejo) and Best Performance By An Actor in the Comedy Or Musical category (Jean Dujardin).
Other big contenders at the January (12) ceremony include The Ides of March, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, and My Week with Marilyn, all of which scored three nominations.
The 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards, hosted by British comic Ricky Gervais, will take place on 15 January (12) in Los Angeles.
The nominations were announced by actors Gerard Butler, Woody Harrelson, Rashida Jones, and Sofia Vergara in Beverly Hills on Thursday (15Dec11) and the main movie award categories are as follows:
Best Motion Picture - Drama
The Ides of March
Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture - Drama
Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis - The Help
Rooney Mara - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton - We Need to Talk About Kevin
Best Performance By An Actor In A Motion Picture - Drama
George Clooney - The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio - J. Edgar
Michael Fassbender - Shame
Ryan Gosling - The Ides of March
Brad Pitt - Moneyball
Best Motion Picture - Comedy Or Musical
Midnight in Paris
My Week With Marilyn
Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture - Comedy Or Musical
Jodie Foster - Carnage
Charlize Theron - Young Adult
Kristen Wiig - Bridesmaids
Michelle Williams - My Week With Marilyn
Kate Winslet - Carnage
Best Performance By An Actor In A Motion Picture - Comedy Or Musical
Jean Dujardin - The Artist
Brendan Gleeson - The Guard
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - 50/50
Ryan Gosling - Crazy, Stupid, Love
Owen Wilson - Midnight in Paris
Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role In A Motion Picture
Berenice Bejo - The Artist
Jessica Chastain - The Help
Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer - The Help
Shailene Woodley - The Descendants
Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role In A Motion Picture
Kenneth Branagh - My Week With Marilyn
Albert Brooks - Drive
Jonah Hill - Moneyball
Viggo Mortensen - A Dangerous Method
Christopher Plummer - Beginners
Best Director - Motion Picture
Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris
George Clooney - The Ides of March
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Alexander Payne - The Descendants
Martin Scorsese - Hugo
The trio of non-Oscar winners joins a class of 175 actors, moviemakers, executives and artists who will be added to the membership list in time to vote for the Academy Awards in 2012. A further three notables will become associate members - and will not be among those voting.
The invitees also include photojournalist/filmmaker Tim Hetherington, who was killed in action in Libya in April (11). Hetherington was nominated for a Best Documentary prize at the 2010 Oscars for his film Restrepo.
The tragic Brit becomes the first posthumous Academy invitee.
Other notable names on the list include Gerard Butler, Vincent Cassel, Harry Potter star Robbie Coltrane, Brand's Arthur co-star Jennifer Garner, Dominic Monaghan, Rooney Mara, Mila Kunis, newcomer Jennifer Lawrence, Nastassja Kinski and husband and wife David Duchovny and Tea Leoni.
Directors Susanne Bier, Neil Burger, Lisa Cholodenko and Tom Hooper have also been invited to join the exclusive Oscars club.