The Way of the Goth – A Review of ‘Little Sister’

The Way of the Goth – A Review of Little Sister

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On the eve of taking her vows, young nun Colleen (Addison Timlin) returns to her childhood home in Asheville, NC, to reconnect with her family, with whom she has not spoken in three years. She’s drawn back when her brother Jacob (Keith Poulson) is released from the hospital after suffering disfiguring injuries in the Iraq War. Now a recluse, he hides away in the family’s guesthouse, distancing himself everyone, including his loving fiancee Tricia (Kristin Slaysman). Their mother Joani (Ally Sheedy), whose suicide attempt provided the impetus for Colleen’s initial departure, claims to recovered, but relies on self-medicating in order to get by. The family patriarch Bill (Peter Hedges) is kind but aloof, seemingly unaffected by everything that’s going on around him. Perhaps the only comfort Colleen finds is her old bedroom, untouched since she left, in all of it’s black-paint and goth glory. Welcome to Little Sister, the new film written and directed by Zach Clark.

It’s been a long time since Robbie and Randall did a joint discussion/review. In fact, the last time we tried, it turned into an argument. Since we were both very interested in seeing this film, we decided to give the format a shot once more.

Randall: I wanted to love this one. I really did. I wanted to call it the “feel-goth movie of the year” and wrap up the review, but the film didn’t connect the way it should have. I feel its greatest shortcoming is that it is relatively consequence-free. I get that the message was “love your family no matter how fucked up they are” but the degrees to which no one really faces repercussions prevented the film from having much weight, from Joani serving her family the pot brownies to the way Jacob’s friends finally get him to hang out again to Colleen’s borrowing of the Reverend Mother’s car.

Robbie: I agree with you, actually. I wish the movie was better. I was so excited to see it. I’ve never heard Christian Death used in a trailer before, and if a movie is cool enough to feature Rozz Williams, it has to be a winner. Right? Nope, not this go ‘round. Not that it was a total dud, it just didn’t deliver. When kids get into goth it’s because they’re drawn to the darkness, the romance, the drama of life: EVERYTHING has consequences. These characters had none. They were disaffected, but not in a meaningful way. I wanted so much more. It was just… sort of limp. By the way, can we just go ahead and make the “feel-goth movie of the year” please? This needs to exist, and we need to do it.

Randall: Ha. Sure thing. As for this film’s goth… Addison Timlin is great as Colleen. She offers up such a natural and sympathetic performance. I felt the way I did the first time I saw Carey Mulligan or Jennifer Lawrence in a film. Timlin has chops and holds this film together. It has me excited for what she does next.

Robbie: Dude! I kept saying how much I loved Timlin! She was really what made the movie for me. Stellar. Had there been a less talented lead, I would’ve actually disliked the movie completely. She is a talent to watch, and I’m really excited to see what she does next. And speaking of actors, I always love seeing Barbara Crampton. What a gem she is.

Randall: The decision to set the film in the weeks leading up to Obama’s election in 2008 is an interesting one. This film is undeniably a “post-9/11” story and Zach Clark’s political leanings are clear. I want to know what went into the thought process of setting this at times bleak family depiction at a point when hope and optimism were at a fever pitch in the nation. It’s then hard to reconcile the decision to release it almost exactly 8 years after when it takes place, when we’re in a much dark and uncertain place with the current election.

Robbie: This was my third favorite aspect of the film (Christian Death/Goth; Addison Timlin; the 2008 setting). I love when movies are set in the not-too-distant past, and are able to highlight a deeper context of what that time meant. It allows us to reflect on the moments we’ve lived and the crisis that we’re still dealing with; the consequences of what’s not even really, truly history yet.

Randall: Semi-agree. I love the not-too-distant past in relation to some fairly strong “based on true stories” movies like The Social Network, Steve Jobs, and The Big Short. But films like this and The Company Men haven’t worked for me as much, being of a time that we haven’t really even left yet.

Robbie: I didn’t say it worked. It didn’t NOT work, but it wasn’t a necessary element. I appreciated the effort, though. It gave me a sense of nostalgia, and that surprised me. I remembered the night Obama was elected, and it was a nice feeling.

Randall: It might work better once we’re past election day. I was mostly distracted comparing it to where we are now while also trying to reconcile the time  period with the characters.

Robbie: Come to think of it, something else I really liked was how the brother was treated by the people in town. I wanted something so much more from that–a stronger commentary–when he was always called a hero. Southern people love their war heroes. He didn’t feel like a hero, though, and that was meaningful. Perhaps I was projecting, or maybe it was there, but like him I kept asking myself, “what is heroic about getting disfigured in an unnecessary war?” It made a soft point about America’s children, but it didn’t follow through, which was disappointing. It’s a film with a lot of great ideas, just not a lot of heart.

Randall: I don’t think you were projecting at all. I feel that was the message (whether it was strong enough or not). It should have had some bigger payoff. Again, everything just sorta worked out for him, when I wanted to see some bigger depth to his suffering and repercussions of his journey. As for the film as a whole, I disagree. I think it had a lot of heart in addition to great ideas, it just didn’t know how to execute those ideas that well.

Robbie: Okay, it has heart. You’re right there. I just didn’t feel anything for anyone, and that was what I was getting at. I had no love for them when I really wanted to. One thing I hated: Colleen’s resolution. Like, what the fuck? I didn’t believe that one single bit. Another thing I didn’t like is that all this happened in the span of like six days. Why set up something so impossible to accomplish? To solve all family issues in less than a week? I don’t want to rewrite the movie here but, like, there are a hundred ways to solve or address (or even indulge in) the conflict, and to offer containment of it. This definitely wasn’t one of them. It could’ve been, but instead this idea just seemed to shoot itself in the head.

Randall: Okay, if we’re talking about things we hated, I have to go with Colleen’s childhood friend Emily’s backstory. The bit where she’s making a bomb? Really? I liked her character overall and I especially liked her scene with Jacob, but the animal rights activist/domestic terrorist thing was a huge misfire.

Robbie: Agreed! Like, why?! What was the point of this? Her character “development” was a turning point for me, and was a point where I decided whether or not I was going to like the movie. This ruined any chances of me liking it, sadly…man, I feel like we’re shitting on this movie, but I really wanted it to be good. I was so excited for it, in fact, that I was recommending it before I’d even seen it. So yeah, I’m a little let down (I’m sorry, Zach!).

Randall: Nothing wrong with having high hopes. I put Christian Death on my playlist this morning because of the movie, so that’s a win.

Robbie: To note, Christian Death is one of the greatest bands of all time, but ONLY with Rozz Williams at its helm. #RozzWilliamsForever

That’s what we think, though we’d certainly like to hear what others have to say. Little Sister opens at The Metrograph in New York today and The Arena Cinema in Los Angeles on October 28th; additional cities to follow.