A Nun’s Gothic Revival (Film Review: “Little Sister”)

An offbeat comedy about a young nun’s visit home as the catalyst for confronting her dysfunctional family as well as challenging her vocational calling, Little Sister is as peculiar as it is moving.


SnapShot Plot

In the decidedly offbeat comedy, Little Sister, an ingenious You’ve Got Mail device is used to quickly set the scene for a homecoming visit of a young woman to her estranged family in North Carolina. Colleen is an angel-faced novitiate in a Brooklyn-based convent of the Sisters of Mercy, a modern order of nuns who eschew the traditional habit and lead lives of poverty and community service. Within the convent, she’s peculiarly addressed as Sister Joan of Arc and there’s an unsettling yet winsome disconnect between her pious behavior and the fringe circles she inhabits, suggesting either an ambiguity about taking her final vows or a penchant for heavy metal music and punk culture.

Colleen receives the email from her troubled mother, Joani (in a world-weary, brittle performance by Ally Sheedy) begging her to come home (it’s been three years) to see about her brother, Jacob who’s back from the hospital but won’t come out of his room. It’s there that we realize the heartbreaking reason for his self-imposed exile, and where we see the remnants of the drastically different, totally Goth identity which Colleen embraced in her youth. The family dynamic is anything but traditional, and between Colleen (who’s nickname in the family is Sweet Pea) and her freewheeling, drug addled parents, you’re left wondering who the parental figure really is. When Colleen figures the only way to break through her brother’s emotional wall is to return herself physically to the Goth Girl she used to be, that’s when things really get interesting. The question is: how much has her interior self remained the same? How much has his?


“Fail to See the Tragic; Turn it Into Magic” – Marilyn Manson


Parting Shot

Addison Timlin is an actor to watch. There’s a girl-next-door sweetness forged in steel in every role she’s played and in Little Sister, her portrayal of Colleen evokes the same understated pathos I found so moving in the fine film from 2012, Best Man Down (a Norma’s Streaming Picks favorite, in fact). Little Sister is director, Zach Clark’s fifth feature film, and here he shares the unique story credit with Melodie Sisk (one of the co-producers). They chose to set the story in the Fall of 2008 during the waning days of the Bush administration, and throughout the film the political and social zeitgeist of the time features prominently in and around the action. Like the country itself, there’s a feeling of desperate hope mixed with a sinking feeling of loss against which Colleen and those around her struggle to fend off. Jacob is besieged by neighbors and strangers alike who insist he’s a war hero, although he doesn’t see himself that way. Colleen’s mother struggles with her perceived role as parent, preferring instead to numb herself with recreational drugs. Jacob’s fiancee struggles with a feeling of entrapment in a future she never envisioned for herself, relying on her exterior physical beauty to reclaim him from the brink. They are all precariously balancing their interior and exterior selves in unsettling, yet at times hilarious ways. And maybe that’s the whole point. We are who we are, face or no face, pink hair and black lips, or habit and veil.


YouTube Trailer Courtesy of:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6QUuw1Kpik

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  • julie says:

    Thanks for the recommendation! I really enjoyed this quirky movie. It was very well acted, sweet and thought provoking. The actress who played Colleen reminded me of Winona Ryder in her early days. She is super talented.

    • Norma says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Julie. And I definitely see the comparison with young Winona Ryder! Keep tuning in with your insights, too. They are most appreciated!

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