Synopsis: When a naive novice nun is discovered with a dead newborn in her convent quarters, a court appointed psychiatrist investigates her case.
Stars: Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, Meg Tilly
Director: Norman Jewison
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: Sometimes what works on the stage just does not translate well to film…cinematic history has shown us this. For someone so anti-war, Fonda really dropped a bomb on Hollywood with this ill-advised adaptation of John Pielmeier’s incendiary play. On paper, it would have been easy to see why many though that this film couldn’t lose…I mean with two Oscar winners in leading roles and a twice-Oscar nominated director at the helm, what could go wrong?
The answer, dear reader, is everything. Agnes of God is a pretty dreadful film that scatters the talents of all involved to the wind. Though it was nominated for three Oscars, I can’t for the life of me understand why this wasn’t chucked right out of theaters with its self serving performances and stupefying pacing.
Fonda (Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding) is a combative psychiatrist assigned to work on a case involving a young nun (Tilly, wild-eyed and vaguely interesting) charged with the murder of a young infant. The mystery of the film is how a seemingly cloistered nun became pregnant without anyone (including herself) knowing. The whole set-up is reminiscent of an episode of I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant, adapted for an art-house audience. First supporting Fonda but then actively blocking her investigation is Bancroft as the chilly Mother Ruth that knows much more than she’s willing to let on. Bancroft and Fonda play off each other well for the most part but as the film progresses the actresses seem to be trying to one up the other with who can do the most tortured line reading. As Agnes, Tilly vacillates between detached naïveté and rolling on the ground hysteria…it’s a difficult role that earned her an Oscar nomination for her trouble.
To its credit, the movie starts off well and lays an appealing framework…but it’s driven off course by Jewison’s muddy direction and Pielmeier’s stage-bound script. Having never seen the play onstage, I can’t say if worked better in front of a captive audience but I’m guessing that it must have for it to have attracted such famous faces for the film version. Even at a relatively short 98 minutes the film feels like a series of stage-y scenes leading to a finale that’s overwrought and mostly unsatisfying. Considering all the people involved it’s a big disappointment.