“Little Sister” (2016)
Film is reviewed from the 2016 Indie Grits Festival screening.
You know it’s not going to be an ordinary story when a film about a nun starts with a quote from a Marilyn Manson. The film opens with a woman (Ally Sheedy) send an urgent email to her daughter, who she calls sweet pea. We pick up bits and pieces of the email and learn that the woman is writing her daughter about her son, who has locked himself away from everyone in the guest house, refusing to come out. The mother pleads with the daughter to write back or better yet, visit. Colleen (Addison Timlin), who reluctantly reads the email, is nun living in New York, who is in her final stages to making her status permeant. While committed to the lifestyle, she is still very young. We see her as she goes out late at night to attend a friend’s avant-guard play about 9/11. Backstage she is made fun of by cast members of the play. The late night causes her to slack in her duties, including falling asleep while playing the organ during a service.
The mother superior of the order Coleen lives at, figures out that something is wrong. She talks about the next big step in Colleen’s journey to become a nun, and that she should take some time off to make sure that she is fully committed to the life of a nun. Colleen takes this opportunity to borrow a car and travel to her parent’s home. She arrives at her parent’s home empty, and her brother will not answer the door to the guest house. The only signs of life are the constant drumming that her brother apparently is playing inside. Her parents and her brother’s fiancee (Kristin Salesman) finally arrive, with her father, Jake (Keith Poulson), the sole one to warmly greet her. Her mother proudly tells Coleen that she is on new medication, and everything will be OK. Collin now must decide to stay and try to reach out to her brother, or go back to her serene life as a nun.
Writer/director Zach Clark has produced an inventive storyline without creating cliche’s, making us feel that the family we get to know in this film are real and are dealing with real-life problems. Set in 2008, when the country was caught up in the Presidential race and was tiring of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the family is dealing with depression and guilt. Coleen’s brother has been significantly affected by his service during the war and may never recover. Coleen’s mom has apparently dealt with depression all her life, and it’s a daily struggle for her and family to deal with. In the middle of this is Coleen having to decide if she is indeed made for the life of service and commitment to the church.
Clark writes flowing dialogue that makes this families strength and weaknesses very evident. The scenic specially between the mom, played by Sheedy and Coleen are heartfelt and many times distressful to watch, as both characters struggle to understand each other and try to hide their painful memories. Even a supporting character, such as Tricia, the finance, feel fleshed out and believable, as we see her character dealing with much more than she ever bargained for. Clark’s characters, while quirky and full of buried secrets, are honest and conceivable. This storyline could have gone over the top and tried to be a wacky comedy, but instead we get meaningful, painful moments that a real family dealing with hard times has.
The cast is a delight to watch. Molly Plunk is funny as Colleen’s high school friend who may be on the run as an animal right’s activist. Barbara Crampton, at the Reverend Mother, shines as her character goes from understanding to downright angry, as Coleen keeps extending her trip, with the Reverend Mother’s car in tow. Peter Hedges as the put-upon father of the family, is amusing as he deals with all his families quirks and Keith Poulson, as Coleen’s troubled brother, gives a moving performance.
It’s Sheedy as the mom that doesn’t deal with well with change and Addison Timlin as her daughter; that makes this film work so skilfully. Sheedy gives a powerful, multi-leveled performance that keeps surprising us with her raw emotions that come out from time to time. Her scenes with Timlin, cut us to the bone with passion and power, especially near the end of the film, when the two finally have a real mother/daughter moment. Timlin is perfect as the meek nun, who we learn was a Goth kid in high school and slowly, surely shows her independence and determination to help her brother weather the storm of emotions that he is feeling.
My favorite scene in this film sums up how well this movie works on a number of levels. Coleen, in an attempt to reach her brother, has dyed her hair pink and gone full Goth with her makeup. She does a fantastic little dance as she lip sync’s to Gwar’s “Have You Seen Me? ” while dismembering a stuffed baby doll. It’s a scene that is both funny and quirky as well as moving, something this movie is also. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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