Movie Review ~ All My Puny Sorrows

The Facts:

Synopsis: A heart-wrenching story of two loving sisters: one a gifted pianist obsessed with ending her life, the other a struggling writer who, in wrestling with this decision, makes profound discoveries about herself.
Stars: Alison Pill, Sarah Gadon, Amybeth McNulty, Donal Logue, Mare Winningham
Director: Michael McGowan
Rated: R
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review:  For all you readers of a certain age out there, do you remember when classic movies like The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music were only shown once a year, making them special occasions? You’d look forward to watching them when they were broadcast on TV because you didn’t own them on VHS (what was a VHS?), and they weren’t available at the push of a button. They were often timed to a specific holiday or season, which went a long way in getting you ready for the upcoming months, both anticipating the showing and then for the time after. 

I mention this in my review of All My Puny Sorrows because this is a movie I feel should only be watched during bright summer months when the birds are chirping, the sun is out, and the grass is green. This one can get pretty bleak. Fans of Miriam Toews’s 2014 book that All My Puny Sorrows is based on will know what they are getting themselves into when approaching this adaptation from writer/director Michael McGowan. Everyone else won’t be as prepared for this overly depressing tale of two sisters battling mental illness in Canada while coming to terms with the impact their strictly religious upbringing had on their lives.

There’s space for movies like this, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about All My Puny Sorrows that makes it play like the book adaptation it is. Maybe it’s the characters’ names, Yoli (Alison Pill, Miss Sloane) and Elf (Sarah Gadon, Dracula Untold), who feel like they could only exist in an author’s mind writing a hefty tome. Or maybe it’s the countless sudsy developments that happen over 100 minutes that feel jam-packed even for a condensed version of a novel. Anything that can happen to a large ensemble of characters winds up happening to the small array of featured family here.

I have liked Gadon for a while, and she always seems to be just on the edge of breaking through into significant accolades. She’s terrific here as the sister constantly battling back demons while attempting to be a strong sister and devoted daughter. Pill’s a bit of a wild card, and while the performance is solid, the character is so all over the map that I often longed for Gadon’s less adventurous, sadder sibling. Of course, best of all is Mare Winningham (News of the World), queen of the underrated, understated performance, as their mother who never can get an honest read on her daughters until it is too late.

I found it challenging to get into this movie and make it through. There’s so much weight to it, and the heaviness it carries can’t help but rub off on the viewer by the end. In that regard, it’s hard to outright recommend All My Puny Sorrows, despite the strong performances. If the emotional rollercoaster and slight pretention of the literary structure is one you can endure, consider yourself fairly warned.