Directed By: Zach Clark
Genre : Comedy
Synopsis: A young “former goth” woman returns home from aspiring to be a nun to face her past.
Overview: Sometimes Netflix has a bizarre algorithm for its recommendations, but every now and then it gets it just right. Back in January, I discovered a little gem of a comedy/horror film called Lace Crater. It was charming in its imperfection and a welcome addition to a long lineup of little, low-budget, quirky indie movies, a genre that continues to melt my heart and one that seems to just keep getting better. So when Little Sister appeared in my recommendations “because you watched Lace Crater,” I didn’t hesitate to give it a go, especially once I saw the subject matter.
I felt an instant connection with Colleen (Addison Timlin) a young woman who is unable to shake her past and her tumultuous family while aspiring to be a nun and a pendulum swinging too far each way. I was never a Sister myself, but over the years it became easier to just smile and nod when new friends introduced me—“This is Becky, she used to be a nun!”—it was just faster than explaining the difference between Catholics and Protestants, studying theology and sacred vows. It’s also more exciting to imagine me in a live rendition of Sister Act than to pretend to be interested in uncomfortable conversation. That’s why when Colleen is cornered in the washrooms by hipster girls who have “never seen one before” empathy caused my heart to flop right out of my chest and it didn’t go back in place for the next hour. It’s this that kept me so close to the story, one that’s rarely told with such frankness and comedic value even though it was nowhere near my own once the truth unravelled. Director Zach Clark employs a sort of boldness to his characters, unashamedly idiosyncratic and awkward—almost too real.
Obviously the religious themes in the film might be out of reach for some viewers. There’s a parallel between two stories here, one of the earth’s creation and of Colleen’s journey. Barbara Crampton as the Reverend Mother quips to her young protege, “It took God 6 days to create the universe. You should be able to get your act together in 5.” but you don’t need to have any working knowledge of Christianity to enjoy this slice of heaven. Colleen’s family is just as perturbed and unsure of how to behave as you might be. It would benefit you to be familiar with politics, as set in the final years of George W. Bush’s presidency, the film bears a strange timely mark when America was looking forward to Obama’s hope. Simpler times.
Empathy is Little Sister’s greatest strength. Colleen (Sister Joan of Arc) has fled from her family following her mother’s depressive “accident” and has been in relative hiding for 3 years until she learns her brother has returned from the war in Iraq dramatically disfigured. It’s then she decides to face her demons, as it were, and return home to make amends and tie up loose ends before she takes her vows. In one breath, Colleen’s family goes from bizarre to weirdly normal. The story feels familiar if only because of what everyone in the movie must overcome. Jacob (Keith Poulson) is understandably destroyed by what has happened to his body and his mind in Iraq and frankly, his reunion with Colleen is extremely moving. It’s wonderful to see Ally Sheedy again as Colleen’s depressive, pot-smoking mother, despite her grating personality and looming dramatics that make it so clear what Colleen was running from in the first place. Her transition from hyper-artistic New York to the suburbs of Asheville, North Carolina is a whole trip in itself that only adds to the discomfort of the story. There’s a lot to unpack in Little Sister and frankly, it gets better the more you think about it.
These dramatic anchors are not the film’s only strength. When the comedy hits, it’s brilliant. Colleen’s long-lost best friend Emily (Molly Plunk) is a trainwreck you can’t take your eyes away from who delivers some of the best lines of the script. But when it misses, it’s uncomfortable, particularly two bizarre musical montages which I found completely redundant and almost painful to watch. Little Sister doesn’t seem to care—it just is what it is, a story about a girl who doesn’t fit anywhere and who is trying, in her own way, to come to terms with her own life. I was disappointed in Colleen’s ultimate choice by the end, but her story is not my own. And really, as much as we love to connect to film in that way, sometimes the best escapism is seeing someone else’s story unfold no matter how much sense it makes to us at the time. The world has never seemed smaller than it does today, and it’s stories and people like these who inspire a sense of connectedness and hope. If they can make us laugh and cry in one sitting, they’ve done their job as well as they can. Little Sister could slip under your radar, or it could become a special weed cupcake that inspires some crazy dreams and strangely relevant healing. It’s up to you, and it’s a low-stakes risk to take on Netflix.
Featured Image: Forager Films