April 1, 2007 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Guides | April 1, 2007 |


For a long time now, the Pajiba staff has been trying to come up with what we think is the definitive movie of the last 30 years or so. Though it quickly became clear that given the many disparate and sometimes conflicting voices on the site, it was an almost a futile effort, I thought I’d take a stab at it anyway, just to see where it took us. The selection process was simple: Each member on staff was asked to pick the ten films they thought defined our generation best and rank them. Whichever film appeared higher and with more frequency on all of the top ten lists would become The Defining Movie of Our Generation (echo optional).

The results, for the most part, were unsurprising: A few of us had two or three films in common, but we were all over the place — a lot of the films you’d probably expect from a site like ours: those directed by Wes Anderson, Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofksy, Cameron Crowe, David O. Russell, Steven Soderbergh, etc. (I was a little shocked by the omission of Tarantino, but we’re not really that site, either.) Compiling the results was fun and a fairly enlightening experience — perhaps someday I’ll make all of the results public (you’d never guess it, but Seth’s top ten reveals him to be more of a TV Teddy Bear than Whore; who knew there was a soft gooey center within?).

Thankfully — for the purposes of this Guide — there was one film that appeared on every single top ten list submitted by our staff. It wasn’t always number one (in fact, the highest it appeared on any list was number three - thanks, Phillip), but in the end, we were able to arrive at a fairly unanimous selection for “The Defining Movie of Our Generation.”

I think, too, that our selection is pretty representative of our site’s mission statement: Bitchy, yes. But I think that readers who have been around for a while also know that underneath our “scathing” exterior, we have a soft-spot for feel good films — uplifting, sometimes spiritual movies with a positive message (e.g., Stranger than Fiction, Little Miss Sunshine, In America). And while this selection never won any Oscars, it did win two Golden Globes (which, I believe, is a much better indicator of quality), three MTV movie awards (giving some credence to its generationally defining qualities), and even a People’s Choice Award (who says we’re not populist around here?). And, of course, the top three bills in the film have amassed nine Oscar nominations and three wins between them. So, it’s not like we’re pulling this movie out of left field.

Anyway, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. I’ll just get on with the review, already. Sister Act stars Whoopi Goldberg, Harvey Keitel, and Maggie Smith. The film follows Deloris Van Cartier (Goldberg), a Reno lounge singer involved with Vince LaRocca (Keitel), a sort of bumbling, dastardly mob boss who won’t leave his wife to be with Deloris because the Catholic church won’t allow it. Frustrated, Deloris quits her job and decides to call it off with Vince. Unfortunately, when Deloris tries to confront him, she walks in his office at the wrong time and sees Vince shoot and kill an associate whom he suspects is a snitch. Things take a turn for the worse and Vince puts out a hit on Deloris. Fearing for her life, she goes to the police.

Her handler at the Reno police department, Lt. Eddie Souther (the remarkable Bill Nunn), decides to hide Deloris in the witness protection program, placing her “in the last place on Earth that Vince would ever look for” her — a convent. So, Deloris changes her name to Sister Mary Clarence, dons a habit, and pretends to be a nun until Vince comes up for trial. And thus is born one of the better fish-out-of-water stories of the last 30 years.

When you put a Reno lounge singer with a history of illicit behavior and a strong disdain for Catholicism (dating back to her own Catholic school days), up against a stern, by-the books, conservative Mother Superior (Maggie Smigh), hilarious friction is inevitable. But what really sets this fish apart from the others flopping around on the shore is that screenwriter Joseph Howard (whose flame burned bright and then faded, suddenly, after Sister Act II) doesn’t simply place Goldberg in a series of contrived situations meant to extract a few cheap laughs (a nun at a bar, a nun on a motorcycle, a nun in a three-ring orgy — ha!), he actually gives her something to do. Namely, Sister Mary Clarence begins leading the congregation’s choir — a limp, uninspired group with zero musical talent — and gives it some soul. Indeed, under Sister Mary’s tutelage, the choir turns dull lifeless hymns into rousing Motown odes to the Lord. The Supremes “My Guy,” for instance, is magically transformed into “My God,” and the results are nothing less than awe-inspiring. Watching the film again, 15 years after its debut on the big screen, I felt the same overwhelming sense of joy that I experienced the first time I saw it — there were times, in fact, when I stood up in my living room and swayed my arms and shook my hips in time with the beat; the musical numbers are that stirring.

But, here’s the deal: Though the performances of both Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith are solid, (famously, the success of the film made Goldberg, for a very short period of time, the highest-paid actress in Hollywood when she signed on for Sister Act II — a film that, despite having its moments, was a bit of a letdown), what really made Sister Act work were the remarkable efforts of its supporting cast, specifically Wendy Makkena as Sister Mary Robert and, especially Kathy Najimy as Sister Mary Patrick. Indeed, Najimy (who rightfully won an MTV Movie Award for best breakthrough performance), imbues Sister Patrick with childlike reverie; she is sort of the stand-in for the audience, experiencing the levitating numbers and situational magic right along with the rest of us. When she gives in to a sinful urge to eat ice cream, I couldn’t help but giggle a little; I’d probably do the same thing (and admit it — you would too, right?).

Since all good films need conflict, true-to-form, things get ugly as the film winds down to its conclusion. Sister Mary Clarence’s cover is blown, the rest of the convent discovers that she is not a nun, and Vince finally tracks her down. But the sisters of the parish ultimately rally around Mary Clarence and come to her aid, setting up an astounding finale (in front of the Pope, no less) that is nothing short of miraculous.

I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if some of our readers expected a more subversive, gritty, or groundbreaking choice as Pajiba’s Generation Defining Flick, but Sister Act, in a way, represents what this site is really about. I know, too, that it may not be a particularly popular choice among our readers — you’ve come to expert certain things of us, and it’s not always easy to live up to those expectations. But, the truth is, we don’t have to hate films all of the time; if we did, we wouldn’t find much joy in writing reviews week after week after week. Thankfully, a movie like Sister Act comes along every great once in a while and restores our faith in Hollywood. Indeed, for every five terrible flicks, there is one Sister Act that gets us through the bumpy times. So, here’s our recommendation: If you haven’t seen it yet, give Sister Act a chance. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. — DR, April Fool’s Day, 2007.

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Guides | April 1, 2007 | Comments ()




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