All My Puny Sorrows

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.

Title: All My Puny Sorrows (2021)   
Director: Michael McGowan    
Writer: Michael McGowan    
Studio: Mulmur Feed Company  //  Momentum Pictures    

IMDb Plot: The poignant story of two sisters, one a concert pianist obsessed with ending her life, and the other a writer who, in wrestling with this decision, makes profound discoveries about her herself.

Joe Says: Sometimes deeply melancholic books simply translate into boring movies.  

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 – as is any other strong, positive, masculine presence).

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 on-screen narrative.

All My Puny Sorrows starring Alison Pill
Sarah Gadon and Alison Pill as Elf and Yoli

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 equally 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. Likewise, depression is a real, and serious, issue. Yet Puny Sorrows is too internal for any proper closure or even guidance on said themes.

Watching All My Puny Sorrows is akin to sipping herbal tea when the topic within is demanding something powerful. Like black coffee. Or a flight of dry martinis.

All My Puny Sorrows movie poster

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 equally slow and depressing. 

No matter how visually stunning the movie looks, sometimes deeply melancholic books simply translate into boring movies.

A version of this review appears on Cinefied

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