Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
A Catholic grade school could seem like a hermetically sealed world in 1964. That's the case with St. Nicholas in the Bronx, ruled by the pathologically severe principal Sister Aloysius, who keeps the students and nuns under her thumb and is engaged in an undeclared war with the new parish priest. Their issues may seem to center around the reforms of Vatican II, then still under way, with Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as the progressive, but for the nun I believe it's more of a power struggle. The pope's infallibility seems, in her case, to have descended to the parish level.
Some will say the character of Sister Aloysius, played without a hint of humor by Meryl Streep, is a caricature. In my eight years of Catholic school, not a one of the Dominican nuns was anything but kind and dedicated, and I was never touched, except by Sister Ambrosetta's thunking forefinger to the skull in first grade. But I clearly remember being frightened by Sister Gilberta, the principal; being sent to her office in second or third grade could loosen your bowels. She never did anything mean. She just seemed to be able to.
Sister Aloysius of "Doubt" hates all inroads of the modern world, including ballpoint pens. This is accurate. We practiced our penmanship with fountain pens, carefully heading every page "JMJ" -- for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, of course. Under Aloysius' command is the sweet young Sister James (Amy Adams, from "Junebug"), whose experience in the world seems limited to what she sees out the convent window. Gradually during the autumn semester, a Situation develops.
There is one African-American student at St. Nicholas, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II), and Father Flynn encourages him in sports and appoints him as an altar boy. This is all proper. Then Sister James notes that the priest summons the boy to the rectory alone. She decides this is improper behavior, and informs Aloysius, whose eyes narrow like a beast of prey. Father Flynn's fate is sealed.