MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Zach Clark
Run Time: 91 min.
Nothing like the dynamics of a dysfunctional family to provide for a plethora of opportunities regarding drama and/or comedy (or, more so, some combination of the two that usually runs in the vein of dark humor) in cinema; a familiar setting, due to its universality and its possibilities, and also the topic of writer/director Zach Clark’s Little Sister (co-written with frequent collaborator, Melodie Sisk), which provides itself plenty of chances to plumb the depths of familial dysfunction for drama and the personality quirks for comedy. However, the inclusion of an in-training nun as the protagonist skewers that familiarity and the expectations that come along with it.
As said, there are plenty of films centered around dysfunctional families but the number of films centered around an American millennial working their way towards nundom returning to the confines of her childhood home I reckon is somewhat minuscule. Right from the start, Clark and Sisk subvert the current standard – the millennial Brooklynite lacking maturity and/or purpose – with Colleen (Addison Timlin), a compassionate and soft-spoken woman of faith that appears to have full control of her life; perhaps, the exact opposite of arrested development, displaced from her new home to her old by way of a homecoming older brother, disfigured and damaged as a result of the war.
Contained within the framework of Little Sister are a number of recognizable elements: the goofy, diplomatic dad; the strained mother-daughter relationship full of judgment and passive-aggression; reunions with childhood friends and more. These relationship hurdles provide Colleen with an emotional obstacle course, intent on testing and flexing her spiritual muscles; one last necessary exercise before she can move forward with her lifetime vow, left to deal with the past and coming to terms with leaving and abandoning her family in their time of great need to dedicate her life to helping others.
The occasion of Colleen leaving and avoiding her family gives rise to a number of implications since Clark and Sisk keep the outright reasoning of this decision somewhat undisclosed. Why is it easier to help and care for strangers instead of family? Is it the personal histories shared and known that prove detrimental? Is Colleen simply supplanting her family for the entirety of society in order to atone through overcompensating or is she attempting to help her family indirectly by improving the world around them, a trickle down therapy technique – correcting the surrounding circumstances of life in order to rectify the hardships and issues found at the core of her immediate family? Or, is it simply standard-fare rebellion, becoming a nun when your parents assumed you would turn out to be a lesbian Satanist?
Clark (and, to an extent, Sisk) refreshingly employs restraint when dealing with the religious nature of Colleen’s life and personality, refraining from the temptation of low-hanging fruit in regards to organized religion, specifically nuns, being the target of relentless gags and jokes. Instead, Colleen’s religion is treated with dignity and respect; the execution of which is made possible in part because of Addison Timlin’s performance in the leading role. An understated portrayal of a guarded individual who slowly works her way to cathartic release. Timlin never overplays her emotions or her character’s damaged nature, instead providing sufficient evidence simply through her disposition and movements, each timid action cut with a vulnerability via insecurity until her soul is ultimately strengthened by the musical stylings of GWAR.