Writer/director Zach Clark (White Reindeer, Vacation!) begins his latest comedy––more of a melodrama with an irreverent spin––with a quote from shock rocker Marilyn Manson; “Fail to see the tragic, turn it into magic!” And thus begins Little Sister, an immediately light and likeable indie with enough witty aphorisms, sardonic interactions, and odd-yet-amiable characters that more than once while watching the film I lamented, why doesn’t Hal Hartley make movies like this anymore?
Beginning in Brooklyn in 2008 we meet Colleen Lunsford (Addison Timlin, excellent), a young nun estranged from her family. Having received an email from her mother, Joani (Ally Sheedy), asking that she return home to Asheville, NC, because her brother has returned from the Iraq war, where he nearly died and is now disfigured.
At first uncertain how to act, Colleen seeks some advice from the Reverend Mother (Barbara Crampton) who decides to lend her her car for a trip back home, adding, “it took God six days to create the universe, you should be able to get your life back together in five.”
Little Sister feels like a very confident and mature work from Clark, and the digressive plot strands are relishable, as are the laughs they implore. Coleen finds her old bedroom, for instance, untouched and exactly how she left it––painted black, adorned with inverted crucifixes and heavy metal posters. No one in her hometown recognizes her without her white foundation and other goth accoutrements making her awkwardness palpable and her present prudishness somehow sticky.
Even though there’s considerable tragedy in Little Sister; Joani is depressed and has survived several suicide attempts; Jacob (Brian Poulson), Colleen’s brother, is terribly deformed and hides away in the family’s guesthouse, when he does venture out he’s mistaken for a monster by a precocious brat; and Colleen herself is at a crossroads she seems ill equipped to wander. And yet, Clark imbues these histrionic instances with a sense of fun and adulation.
For all the potentially loaded subject matter, Clark brilliantly displays a diligence to engage and elucidate without didacticism so that Little Sister is a droll delight that charms and enchants both the head and the heart.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.