“The characters and their personalities are of paramount focus, rather than a constantly evolving 91 minute story.”
by Ken Bakely
We don’t really realize how the passage of time affects us until we are forced to encounter it face to face. In Zach Clark’s Little Sister, this is a realization had by Colleen (Addison Timlin), a young nun-to-be in New York City who travels back to her hometown in North Carolina, when her brother Jacob (Keith Poulson), severely disfigured in war, returns home from duty. He camps out in the guest house, unwilling to go out and let the town see him like this – they have branded him a hero and a survivor already, so why prolong it?
Colleen makes it her goal to coax her brother out of his shell, and in the process, revisits the memories of her own childhood and the relationships she had with her family and friends. She was a hardcore goth, and a militant activist in waiting, but reversed course after high school (literally so, in one case – upon entering her old bedroom, she immediately turns a crucifix on the wall right side up.) Yet those ghosts of the past are still there. It has been observed by many that our previous personalities never quite leave us, and as much as we try to forget them, they shape our present and reveal themselves in unexpected ways.
I find it difficult to write about Little Sister at length, because it is a film which refuses to overly exert itself. This isn’t a criticism, but rather an observation – it does not conform to genre expectations. The characters and their personalities are of paramount focus, rather than a constantly evolving 91 minute story. This is a tricky thing to pull off, as one risks losing the audience’s attention if it is perceived that the plot is uneven.
Yet Clark approaches this task with great efficiency, showing how the quirks and inanities of each individual slowly builds and plays off of the storyline, as external history events (the film is set in 2008, and the optimism of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is a staple for news clips on TVs in the background) both comment on and provide contrast to what we see. Colleen is annoyed with her parents’ (Peter Hedges and Ally Sheedy) casual marijuana usage, has a hard time reconnecting with an old friend who is very much the same person she was in high school, and isn’t ready for how eccentric everyone seems to be once you step back and examine them from afar.
I would rather not go much more into detail. Many of Little Sister’s pleasures come from the wonderful ways that the characters interact from moment to moment and scene to scene. It’s a fairly inconsequential “mood piece,” but the movie is very good at what it does, and boasts a fine performance from Addison Timlin well worth seeing. The throwaway exchanges and plain cinematography hide more interesting elements under the surface, and Clark makes sure that the intonations of his screenplay are always on the back burner, never turned off all the way.