Little Sister follows nun in training Colleen (Addison Timlin) as she reconnects with her estranged family after her older brother returns home from serving in the Iraq war. Set in the not so distant past of 2008 the film delves into the complicated nature of family ties.
Colleen returns home after receiving an email from her drug dependent mother (Ally Sheedy). It’s not a visit she particularly wants to commit to, but after advice from her Reverend Mother (Barbara Crampton) she reluctantly sets upon her travels. Once back she finds her family have changed a lot over the last few years, her older brother Jacob (Keith Poulson) the most noticeable. A victim of an IED whilst serving in Iraq, Jacob has suffered severe facial burning and now lives as a recluse on the family property, passing his time playing the drums and doing anything he can to avoid intimacy with his fiancé. Whilst everyone else has changed, Colleen appears to revert back to her former at home self, reclaiming her Goth phase and trying her best to help Jacob come to terms with his condition. Along the way the family have to deal with tensions of the past and Colleen must decide if a life in the church in really what she wants.
Little Sister is a truly exceptional indie drama. It’s got a kooky edge that makes it stand out from others. It’s also fairly light-hearted despite dealing with some dark subject matter, including attempted suicide, post traumatic stress, marital woes and substance reliance.
A big reason why the film shines so brightly is down to Timlin. She holds the whole thing together with her very enjoyable performance. Her portrayal of Colleen is a combination of shy fragility, good intentions and leftover teenage angst. We’ve all got a little on Colleen in us, thus making her instantly identifiable with. Her turn is reminiscent of a young Winona Ryder circa Mermaids / Girl, Interrupted both visually (the pair could easily be related) and physically.
Tonally the film is balanced, just the right amount of humour, pathos and conflict to keep the viewer entertained throughout. Think Garden State with a smidge of Bettlejuice humour and you’re along the right track.
A relatable tale that highlights the perils of family life in a realistic and down to Earth manner. All the characters have their strengths and flaws, just as people do in real life. There aren’t any stereotypes here. For example, Colleen was a teenage Goth and isn’t the insolent, morbid, self-harmer that a lot of films stylise. Instead she simply enjoyed the music and scene as an outlet for the angst bubbled up due to the relationship with her mother. Similarly, her mother isn’t an evil tyrant or overly domineering, she’s just a woman who had children younger than she should, forcing her to grow up sooner than she would have liked.
A charming independent drama that deserves to cross over into the wider populace. Engaging, quirky, funny and emotional, Little Sister is an absolute delight. An instant kooky cult classic.
Little Sister screens as part of 2016’s Fantasia International Film Festival programme.
Find all our of Fantasia 2016 coverage here.