Zach Clark’s dramedy Little Sister could put a smile on anyone’s face. However, that happiness would be more than sporadic occurrences if the film’s quirkiness didn’t get in the way.
Addison Timlin (That Awkward Moment, Odd Thomas) plays the role of Colleen Lunsford, a nun-in-training who finds herself encountering a personal struggle shortly after receiving an e-mail about her brother. Jacob (Listen Up Philip’s Keith Poulson) has returned from serving in Iraq with full-body scars from being burned. He’s unrecognizable, which contributes to Jacob’s post-war existential crisis.
With apprehensions, Colleen returns to her hometown of Asheville, North Carolina for a limited stay with her wayward family (including her bipolar mother played by The Breakfast Club’s Ally Sheedy). Colleen quickly learns that by recognizing her punk past, she can help Jacob process the present.
Little Sister has an ensemble of great performances that all mesh with each other – an impressive feat considering the extreme emotions of the film’s characters always seem to be mismatched with each other. Keith Poulson is especially good in a role that requires him to downplay glaring physical characteristics. It’s a performance that truly mesmerizes the viewer.
Zach Clark has spurts of pure delight, but some of these lighthearted moments end up watering down the poignancy that Clark worked so hard to achieve in his self-penned screenplay. I was reminded of 2014’s The Skeleton Twins, another movie featuring siblings with a dysfunctional past. Both films have other similarities (including a memorable musical sequence), but the emotional resonance was consistent in The Skeleton Twins. When Little Sister stops to let its hair down, it has to work hard to get back on track.
The advantage Little Sister has over The Skeleton Twins is its direct connection to a brand of perverse misfit that most filmmakers like to use as a visual punchline. Colleen’s buried hybrid personality of hardcore-techno-punk-goth is treated in a pleasing manner that’s fun but remains edgy throughout.
MDFF presents an exclusive screening of Little Sister at Toronto’s The Royal Cinema on Wednesday, November 2 at 8:00pm. Buy advance tickets here!
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie