Growing up when I did and now knowing any better I watched a lot of guilty pleasure crap from the 90’s. Sister Act was my introduction to This is also my introduction to Harvey Keitel and Bill Nunn. The latter seems to age between three years, from being Spike Lee’s Radio Raheem, the punk that cops shoot to a Lt. Eddie Souther who saves nightclub singer Dolores (Whoopi Goldberg) from Vincent LaRocca (Keitel) by tucking her into some inevitably awkward sitcom-like placement in a San Francisco convent and turning her into a Sister Mary Clarence.
Goldberg and Maggie Smith leave impressions but I didn’t know that both, who squaring off in the film, are EGOTs, Goldberg having a Grammy and Smith having two Golden Globes. It’s not their best work but let them have their fun. But I couldn’t help but compare both to other movie nuns, Clarence being Sister Ruth. I also see a lot of Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) in Smith’s take on the Mother Superior, the northern British inflections highlighting their controlled anger against younger, rebellious nuns symbolizing a world against tradition. Sitting on the pews she looks up to Clarence on the stage instead of looking down on her to supervise her, Clarence’s implicit message of change as helpful yet jarring enough for her not to accept at first.
It’s snobbish to not see this film’s few merits like casting the faces playing other nuns. It’s easy for the film to seem to have been, pardon the expression, cut from the same cloth. Instead the movie actually allows most of them to stick out with personalities, and it must be hard for these actresses to express that through a habit and a square hole where their faces go. There are the more fleshed out characters from the sunshine’ like Sister Mary Patrick (Kathy Najimy, also famous for playing Peggy Hill in “King of the Hill”), sister Mary Robert (Wendy Makkena) who fights her own timidity by being the nun choir’s stand out voice and acerbically hilarious Sister Mary Lazarus, who seems to have had an equally and healthy adult life before taking her vows.
I also want to do some armchair assessments about how films like this perpetuate the image of the urban area. There are cringe-inducing scenes like one when Clarence, Patrick and Robert sneak out from the convent across the street into some dingy biker bar (I swear if I see a leather jacket in a 90’s movie again). And this isn’t a Whoopi movie if there isn’t happy synthesized trumpet music during chase scenes. Was the Haight-Ashbury that bad around the late 80’s and early 90’s? I suppose this movie’s fantasy of the Church revitalizing terrible neighborhoods is better than Starbucks doing the same thing in the real world. And at least this is about Clarence instead of her being a supporting character in the neighbourhood.