Taking a modern, goth-influenced, look at religion
The coming-of-age film is a time honored part of the American storytelling tradition. It’s part of our shared experience of growing up—the teenage alienation, the family drama, the loss of self, the discovery of an identity, the reconciliation of youthful ideals with adult reality.
Our love of these stories may be rooted in our religious past, a Puritanical devotion to the Prodigal Son. We all long for a place where everything is forgiven, where the fatted calf waits, where we can return without judgment or fear of reprisal. Of course, these places rarely exist, but there is comfort in coming home. Even if a home is abandoned for legitimate reasons, we remain tied to a place.
Little Sister is a coming-of-age film that turns this tale on its ear. It’s about a teenage rebellion, about how children borrow their parent’s values until they find values of their own. It’s also funny, imaginative, and well written.
Collen (Addison Timlin) is a young nun in Brooklyn, New York who has not yet taken her vows. She appears timid, quiet, unsure of herself in her position. But there’s something about her. Something about the friends she’s made, something about the cheap blue sunglasses she wears as she talks to the Mother Superior, something about the way she carries herself. She’s seeking something, but it isn’t necessarily an opportunity to serve.
After receiving an email from her mother (Ally Sheedy) asking her to return home to Asheville, North Carolina to see her brother, we learn that Colleen has come a long way from her past. Her childhood room is painted black, covered in posters for GWAR and Slayer, complete with an upside down cross over her bed.
We learn that her brother, who shared a similar affinity for the darker side, has returned from Iraq badly burned and disfigured. Colleen must confront her reason for leaving, the friends she left behind, while serving as a balm for her brother and punching bag for her mother.
The film draws the obvious parallels to the typical teenage rebellion of drinking and partying. The impression is that Colleen had no shortage of opportunities for that type of behavior during her time at home and roundly rejected it in an attempt to define herself. She leaves the anything goes environment of her home and rushes into the arms of the strictest environment she can think of: The Catholic Church.
Hers isn’t a religious conversion necessarily, though you can see it developing as she reaches out to her family. Rather, her conversion mirrors her brother’s flight to the military—both the church and the armed forces are organizations with rules and structure, a place that minimizes individuality in service of the greater good.
The film does an excellent job at allowing the actors to reveal strong emotions through understatement, whether it's Colleen’s righting of the cross in her room or Jacob’s (Keith Poulson) incessant drumming to avoid conversations with his family.
The drumming in particular is a competent device for underpinning the tension in many of Colleen’s conversations with her mother. It serves to highlight the subtle violence in their interactions, without resorting to broken plates and shouted obscenities.
Overall, Little Sister is a well-made and well-acted film. Of particular note is Keith Poulson, who imbues a strong sense of understandable defeatism into Jacob, a man who CNN praises as a hero that wants only to be left alone in his misery.
Jacob isn’t a hero—he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. All the interviews and praise in the world won’t replace what he lost, and neither will pointing out the failure of U.S. military policy. All of this is portrayed expertly by Poulson, through downcast glances and even delivery.
Little Sister is yet another in a long line of terrific films brought to Chattanooga by the Cine-Rama. Every week, there is something else worth seeing, something that can’t be seen anywhere. My only complaint is that there aren’t enough show times for me to see everything they bring to town.
Coming soon is the 6th Annual Frightening Ass Film Fest—a full day of spectacular horror films, music, comedy, and Halloween festivities. There’s not another event like in Chattanooga. Support local film.