6.3/10
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8 user 32 critic

Little Sister (2016)

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Young nun Colleen is avoiding all contact from her family, returning to her childhood home in Asheville NC, she finds her old room exactly how she left it: painted black and covered in goth/metal posters.

Director:

Zach Clark

Writers:

Zach Clark (story by), Zach Clark | 1 more credit »
1 win. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Addison Timlin ... Colleen Lunsford
Ally Sheedy ... Joani Lunsford
Keith Poulson ... Jacob Lunsford
Peter Hedges ... Bill Lunsford
Barbara Crampton ... The Reverend Mother
Kristin Slaysman ... Tricia
Molly Plunk Molly Plunk ... Emily
Alex Karpovsky ... Deli Guy
Rhonda Hansome ... Homeless Woman
Amber Williams Amber Williams ... Debbie
Gene Santarelli Gene Santarelli ... Shut-In
Joan Shangold Joan Shangold ... Sister Abigail
Sandra Vaughn-Cooke ... Sister Isadora
Sunita Mani ... Performance Art Dancers
Tallie Medel ... Performance Art Dancers
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Storyline

Young nun Colleen is avoiding all contact from her family, returning to her childhood home in Asheville NC, she finds her old room exactly how she left it: painted black and covered in goth/metal posters.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Comedy | Drama

Certificate:

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Parents Guide:

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Details

Official Sites:

Official Site

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

14 October 2016 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Irmã See more »

Filming Locations:

Asheville, North Carolina, USA See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Voted as Best Film of 2016 by Richard Brody, film critic at 'The New Yorker'. See more »

Connections

References Bride of Frankenstein (1935) See more »

Soundtracks

White Walls
Written by Jessie Evans
Performed by The Vanishing
Courtesy of the artist
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User Reviews

 
In Which Lady Bird Had Her Goth Phase
22 August 2018 | by jfictitionalSee all my reviews

After being thoroughly impressed by Addison Timlin in "Submission," I decided to find out what I'd missed after previously dismissing this talented actress as...well, just another actress. And since I completely rewrote my review for that film, I ought to do the same for "Little Sister."

The eponymous character, in both literal and clerical senses, is Colleen Lunsford (Timlin), a twenty-odd novitiate devoted to her NYC church. She finds fulfillment in doing God's work, yet her Mother Superior (Barbara Crampton) can tell something is holding her back. It's probably to do with her childhood home in Asheville, NC, and when a halting, exclamation-filed email from her mother Joani (Ally Sheedy) announces the return of her brother Jacob (Keith Poulson) after a life-changing experience in Iraq, Colleen can't help feeling compelled to return. If not for herself, then for Jacob, who in the height of the 2008 elections is being held up as a symbol of everything that's wrong with America, whether he wants to be or not. In reluctantly opening herself up to that world again, and her roots as a high-school Goth chick, Colleen has to wonder if she can't be both who she was then and who she intends to become. Weirdness ensues along the way. Such weirdness.

It's a good setup for an indie drama, and "Little Sister" is very indie, from its low-key vibe and naturalistic performances to its emphasis on character over plot. Aside from Colleen's arc there's little sense of forward momentum or a buildup toward something. But that's okay; writer-director Zach Clark is content to merely observe these people finding their way through life, much like Greta Gerwig did with "Lady Bird," and both films are all the better for it.

At the heart of "Little Sister" is Colleen's relationship with her deeply dysfunctional family and their halting attempts to connect. Jacob, horribly disfigured and almost angry with himself for not dying, has become an antisocial shut-in, pounding away on a drum set at random hours to keep his demons in check. His live-in fiancee, Trisha (Kristin Slaysman), remains devoted, but his aloofness is clearly wearing her down. Joani and Bill (Peter Hedges), lifelong stoners, simply take it in stride - although Joani, fighting her own insecurities with prescription meds and less conventional remedies, always seems one forced smile from a nervous breakdown. Only Colleen, who escaped the cloying passivity of this small town, has the patience and determination to keep trying. These relationships have an unforced, bittersweet tone to them; feelings of rediscovery and camaraderie, or antipathy, are authentic and rewarding, and watching them grow and change is an equal pleasure.

Much of this the film owes to Timlin, once again fantastic in a complex, layered role. In early scenes at the nunnery, Clark uses her petite stature and Natalie Portman-esque voice to great effect, showing us a young woman who doesn't exactly float through life but isn't taking charge either. She stumbles on her words, has difficulty giving the Reverend Mother a straight answer, and recoils from the overbearing attention of people who have "never seen a real nun before." The unease and indecision is written all over Timlin's face, even behind a pair of sunglasses, and you have to wonder how she survived her kooky family. But once Colleen decides to reach Jacob on her own terms, we get a totally unexpected scene - arguably the film's best - that's wonderfully out-there and yet grounded at the same time, a glimpse of who Colleen once was and might not have completely let go of. Timlin imbues her with such warmth and quiet strength you'd hardly believe this is the same actress who played a far more dubious person in "Submission." That's how good she is.

She's ably supported by Poulson, who projects weariness, self-loathing, and a slow return to feeling at ease with himself using little more than his voice. Crucially, he and Timlin have a solid rapport; I particularly liked the way the film contrasted their height difference without making it a thing. Most impressive, though, is that the considerable layers of makeup on his face are never the most interesting thing about him, even if it's what you immediately notice. He digs deep enough that by the end, it's practically irrelevant.

The rest of the cast, made up of relative unknowns and a few indie veterans, are largely fine without any real standouts. But I must make mention of Ally Sheedy. Other reviews likened it to watching Allison from "The Breakfast Club" all grown up and realizing she's probably turned into her parents (forget all that makeover crap), and it's an apt description. Flashbacks in the form of old home movies - a slightly contrived device, particularly the way adults are only seen from the waist down - show us a woman who wants the best for her children yet resents them, in a way, for the sacrifices they represent. Life has continually disappointed Joani, and while she makes every effort to cope, sometimes it's easier to tune out and let things run themselves into potential disaster. Sheedy captures this in smiles that look like grimaces of pain, an annoyed glare as Colleen prays before dinner, or the haphazard way she pours herself wine while adding liberal amounts - among other things - to her cooking. It flirts with being too broad early on, but finds balance at exactly the right time, during a quietly fraught talk in which mother and sister only just learn how to see eye to eye. In that moment, unburdening her soul to the one she desperately wants to feel close with, Sheedy is heartbreakingly authentic, and if she really has decided to retire from acting - except for a cameo in "X-Men Apocalypse," she has not appeared in anything since - this was a strong final role.

I hesitate to say there were things I didn't like about "Little Sister," and they're honestly more nitpicks than anything. Earlier I mentioned the relative lack of plot, and considering what the film wants to be, that's fine. However, there were one or two tangents I wish had been elaborated upon, and characters I would have liked to spend more time with. The film's flirtations with politics - making Jacob an Iraq vet during the 2008 election, an interpretive dance show that came off as very anti-Bush - seem to be pointed commentary, but ultimately do nothing except date the film. Again, nitpicking, but I felt like Clark wanted to tell me one thing, then lost interest and moved on. But hey, "Lady Bird" did the same, and I loved "Lady Bird." So maybe I'm just dumping on this film for not being "Lady Bird," which is of course unfair, so pay that no mind.

No, the one moment that truly bothered me came in the last ten minutes, during a sudden burst of what I guess you could call action after there's already been a dramatic climax. Upon reflection it's not wholly unexpected - at least two earlier scenes hint at it - and there's a morbidly goofy tone, but it feels like a weird detour, and afterward I had to wonder why it was there at all. But I might just not be reading it correctly. Who knows?

I mentioned in my review of "Submission" that, while I realized Addison Timlin is an amazing actress, I'd yet to see her in a film that equaled the level of passion and dedication she brings to each project. "Little Sister" is, in my limited experience, perhaps the closest she has come thus far, giving her a well-deserved leading role and surrounding her with a strong supporting cast. At heart, it's a slight, quirky character drama made with obvious love, a story of finding yourself while helping others do the same, and what it means to be a family. The impression it makes will be small, but hard to forget.


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