«I also had a sister, the only sister –
She dearly loved me, and I doted on her;
To her I poured out all my petty sorrows.
There are a lot of old and complicated family relationships involved here: Elf was the perfect sister, Yoli is a rebel who got pregnant at seventeen, etc. Elf’s husband Nick (Ali Mauji) seems supportive but also rather unhelpful, and Elf’s psychiatrist tends to discharge her from the hospital. Yoli begs him not to.
The film opens with Donal Logue standing on the railroad tracks, watching the approaching train, waiting for his own death, the death he chose. This is an image that McGowan returns to again and again. All My Little Sorrows is laced with collage fragments of this and other moments, showing the past, the two sisters as children, glimpses of their strong bond, the toys they played with, the forests they roamed, their smiles. These collages create an associative and subjective mood, placing us in Yoli’s head where memories invade the present. Yoli’s voice-over is used so inconsistently that it never translates into a real choice. The film is clearly told from her point of view, but the voice-over adds little to the understanding, and in long sections it disappears altogether.
Compare this to a movie like Goodnight Mom, which has a similar theme of a mother trying to stop her daughter from committing suicide. In this movie, Anne Bancroft’s desperate pleading and Sissy Spacek’s practical confidence make for a highly unnerving viewing experience. You hope that the mother will be able to convince the daughter to stay. But the daughter seems so determined that it seems too late. She’s already gone, though, she just needs to make ends meet. Playing out «Night Mother» in real time is devastating. «All My Puny Sorrows» has all the elements to land a crushing blow, but lacks a sense of urgency. People seem to be marking time, as if the end is already a foregone conclusion, it remains only to come to terms with the inevitable.
The three actresses are great, especially Pill, who inhabits Yoli’s tattered insecurities with comfort and friendliness (bringing some welcome humor to this mostly grim affair). Yoli seems very real. The scenes with daughter Nora (Amybeth McNulty) are some of the best in the film, quiet and insightful. Gadon is a wonderful actress, although here she is mostly just lying in a hospital bed, looking hazily and sadly into the distance. There are moments when the characters are heated to the limit – for example, when Yoli tells Elf how much she will miss her – but this is never enough. The temperature stays warm.
Now available on digital platforms.