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Movie Review

Release Date: 05/03/22
Genre: Drama

Studio: Momentum Pictures


"Based on the international best-selling novel by Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows is the poignant story of two sisters-one a concert pianist obsessed with ending her life, the other, a writer, who in wrestling with this decision, makes profound discoveries about her herself."


Any Michael McGowan directed film is usually worthy of attention. Saint Ralph (2004), for instance, remains a pleasure to watch. His latest is an adaptation of All My Puny Sorrows, which he crafts into a grand spectacle of insightfulness and sorrow and memory. Puny Sorrows is also deathly slow and, perhaps, too feminine of a tale for this particular reviewer to be fully immersed.


All My Puny Sorrows is the tale of two sisters. One is a concert pianist and depressive to the point of suicide. The other? A struggling writer who also struggles with life as a mom, sister, and daughter. Both sisters are weighed down by an odd life, a Mennonite religion, and the death of their father (Donal Logue, whose on-screen role was criminally short).


McGowan, along with editors Orlee Buiu and Michelle Szemberg, beautifully cut in between the present-day narrative and the thoughts and memories both sisters share. Even when the trope of historical flashback sequences gets tedious – and tedious it gets – Daniel Grant’s cinematography is gorgeous to view, as is McGowan’s overall movement. Yet these mnemonic images, which certainly would work well in a novel, often become distracting, contrasting to the action on the screen.


Alison Pill, perhaps best known for her clever role as Dr Jurati in Picard as well as the creepy program manager in Alex Garland’s most-excellent Devs, plays Yoli, who is concerned and floundering and numb. Pill is all wide-eyed and hopeless while Sarah Gadon (from Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy) is the haunted Elf, who wishes to end her life. As the movie narrows into a statement on assisted death, the plot slows to a repetitive character piece. The portrayals are good. Pill and Gadon play off each other with a comfortable familiarity that makes their relationship enjoyable and understandable. The topic is warranted and ready for debate. Puny Sorrows is perhaps too internal for any proper closure.


Full disclosure: I have not read the book. I am certain it is well written and deep with melancholic, narrative insight. And as much as McGowan no doubt fought to show that insight, the overall story is slow and depressing. No matter how visually stunning the movie looks, sometimes deeply melancholic books simply translate into boring movies.

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