All My Puny Sorrows, directed by One Week’s Michael McGowan, is cut from similar cloth as last year’s outstanding, sad drama Our Friend. Carried by a small yet mighty cast who are all approaching sensitive material under the guidance of a cautious filmmaker, All My Puny Sorrows tracks how deep mental illness can run within a family’s dynamic, and how it affects its members.
As siblings who were forced to confront traumatic conditions at a young age, Yoli (Goon’s Alison Pill) and Elf (Sarah Gadon of A Dangerous Method) are still reeling from their father’s suicide (a brief yet memorable performance by Oliver Sherman’s Donal Logue). Yoli is suppressing her emotions and channeling them towards her writing. Elf, a concert pianist with her own suicidal past, is having a harder time dealing with her depression. After another attempt to end her life, Elf soon finds herself in a psychiatric ward; resisting the assistance of a staff psychiatrist (another fleeting, interesting character played by Canadian character actor Martin Roach). Yoli travels back to her old stomping ground to tend to her sister, which awakens her own grief.
All My Puny Sorrows is a heavy movie, but it doesn’t wallow in melodrama. Aside from some show-offy literary references that are on an impenetrable level for audiences, McGowan’s movie (adapting from Miriam Toews’ novel) recognizes the gravity of its themes yet finds accessibility for the audience through character relationships. Pill shows amazing range as she rides the line between supressing Yoli’s inner turmoil and learning to become more vulnerable. Gadon also shows admirable depth in her role that requires the actor to show different levels of sadness through her own growth. These two central performances are given additional support by a commendable supporting cast.
All My Puny Sorrows is a thought-provoking study of grief and growth, with just enough commentary on the patronage (or lack thereof) provided by health care systems towards those suffering from mental illness.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie