Writer/director John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) adapts his Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning play Doubt for the big screen keeping all the themes that made the original work such a hit on stage. Set in 1964 the film version opens up much of the talky proceedings and sets the action in a wind-swept Brooklyn Catholic school where Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is trying to shake up the status quo and introduce a little more free thinking. These actions cause instant friction with the stern Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) who immediately butts heads with Flynn. Significant change already is taking place as the school has admitted its first black student Donald Miller (Joseph Foster). When mild-mannered Sister James (Amy Adams) suggests that perhaps Father Flynn is spending too much personal time with Donald it sets Sister Aloysius off on an ill-considered crusade to get rid of Flynn triggering a battle of morals will and yes doubt in the minds of both the characters and the audience. Rather than casting some of his Tony-winning actors from the play Shanley decided he wanted a blank slate bringing in a new interpretation to the material. Obvious choice for the taciturn Sister Aloysius is Meryl Streep who using a slight Brooklyn accent convincingly tears into the role that won acclaimed actress Cherry Jones a Tony. Streep plays it broadly and the onscreen fireworks between her and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Flynn are indeed spectacular. Acting just doesn’t get much better than this particularly for Hoffman who is amazing as the charismatic priest walking the thin line between personal conviction and guilt. Adams doesn’t really get the big scenes but portrays Sister James’ hopeful innocence and naiveté with just the right amount of sugar -- not too sweet not too dark. Top honors in the cast go to Viola Davis as Donald Miller’s mother. Taking what is essentially a 10 minute role Davis will tear your heart out as she desperately pleads with Streep to let Donald stay in school. John Patrick Shanley clearly has a personal stake in this material and returns to directing for the first time since his ill-fated Joe vs. the Volcano in the early ‘90s. He seems much more at home with this more intimate piece casting it smartly and using the weather --including the use of a haunting rustling wind -- as a key part of the background ambience. Doubt is exactly the kind of traditional Broadway adaptation Hollywood used to do so well particularly in the ‘50s and ‘60s and Shanley smartly doesn’t try to muck it up with any flashy filmmaking tricks. He lets his quartet of superior actors do most of the work turning Doubt into one of the best stage adaptations in many many years.
Beware parents. Your kids--especially your little girls--will want to see Enchanted over and over whether you want to sit through all the sugary sweetness multiple times or not. The tale follows Giselle (Amy Adams) a beautiful and plucky young lass who is waiting for her Prince Charming--or in this case Prince Edward (James Marsden)--so she can live happily ever after as his princess. But Edward’s stepmother the evil sorceress Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) has no intention of giving up her throne. So before the happy couple can say “I do ” Narissa banishes Giselle from her magical musical animated land by pushing her down a well thus sending her into the gritty reality of the streets of modern-day Manhattan. Shocked by this strange new environment that doesn’t operate on magical bliss Giselle is now adrift in a chaotic world badly in need of enchantment. But when Giselle begins to fall for Manhattanite Robert (Patrick Dempsey) a divorce lawyer who has come to her aid she wonders: Can a storybook view of romance survive in the real world? By God she’s going to find out. You might not think it would be tough to play an animated fairy-tale princess come to life in the real world but try playing it with a straight face. Adams not only makes you believe Giselle is a living breathing storybook character with her delicate mannerisms and unbearably sunny disposition but she does so without giving you a toothache. Yes Adams has to break into song on more than one occasion as princesses-in-making are wont to do but it’s when Giselle starts to become more well human that the talented actress truly shines. For example Giselle has never known anger but when she loses it with Robert Adams plays it with such wonder and amazement it’s infectious. Adams’ Supporting Actress Oscar nod for her similarly cheery performance in Junebug wasn’t a fluke; she could be looking at nomination No. 2. Trust me. The rest of the cast unfortunately pales in comparison but they serve their purpose. Dempsey is adequately bewildered and enchanted by this strange girl he picks up in the middle of the street while Marsden plays the prince with the right amount of cluelessness and bravado. Only Sarandon seems out of place as the evil queen. She looks great in the makeup and costumes but the veteran actress goes just a wee bit over the top. Not since 1992’s Cool World has animated characters-turned-real people been so convincing. Of course Enchanted takes things onto a much more PG-friendly path with director Kevin Lima--having already directed Tarzan and The Goofy Movie--keying into that certain animated Disney mentality. Enchanted offers plenty of warm and fuzzy feelings--and should get your toes tapping during the original song and dance numbers. Giselle’s theme song about finding one’s true love as she dances through Central Park is one in particular you won’t be able to get out of your head. I can see the Disney theme park attractions now. Yeah so Enchanted isn’t terribly inspired or all that innovative; it's not very funny either. But after all the political violent and ultra-serious movies this holiday season its syrupy confection should provide some good old-fashioned family entertainment--and make you smile.