Review: Miriam Toews’s excellent customization of All My Puny Sorrows will pierce your heart

Sarah Gadon and Alison Pill in a scene from All My Puny Sorrows.Courtesy of AMPS Productions Inc. / Mongrel Media

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All my wicked sorrows

Written and directed Michael McGowan, based on the novel by Miriam Toews

Protagonist Alison Pill, Sarah Gadon and Mare Winningham

Classification 14Α; 103 minutes

It opens April 15 in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Winnipeg, expansion to other cities April 22


Selection of the reviewer


I love this movie as a human being. It pierced my heart like some paintings or pieces of music do. The way you stand at the foot of a mountain does. The first time I saw it, I had to stay in my cinema for five minutes after it ended, to end the crying. The second time, I vowed to watch it in more detail, but I ended up crying again.

The story, in a nutshell: Lottie (Mare Winningham) and the daughters of Elfrieda (Sarah Gadon), known as Elf, a world-renowned concert pianist, and Yoli (Alison Pill), a recently divorced mother and up-and-coming novelist, live with the after. -consequences of the suicide of their husband and father 12 years ago. Now, as Elf’s own depression approaches, Yoli must fight to give her reasons to live.

Mare Winningham in a scene from All My Puny Sorrows.Courtesy of AMPS Productions Inc. / Mongrel Media

This sounds gloomy, but mysteriously, it is the opposite. What screenwriter and director Michael McGowan brings out here is a miracle of tone – the same tone that Miriam Toews established in her original novel, the title of which comes from a poem by Coleridge: “I also had a sister… In her I threw forward all my weak sorrows “. It is this confrontation of insignificance and sorrow, this increased awareness of the bitterness-sweetness of being human, that kills me. Our individual sorrows, when we suffer them, are everything. But in the collective form of things, it is nothing. We continue. Life is funny because it is so sad, beautiful because it is ephemeral. Getting this tone right is how a sad story turns into one of the most reassuring things you will ever see.

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It’s quite difficult to do that in a novel. It only works in the movie if everyone is doing the exact same movie – and I mean everyone, from the production designer who knows what someone’s shelves should look like to the sound engineer who finds exactly the right (threatening, innocent) train.

And of course the actors. Here’s another miracle that McGowan and casting director Heidi Levitt performed: Yoli, Elf and Lottie each need something, and Pill, Gadon and Winningham each have just that. Winningham’s Lottie exudes an acceptance of sadness that is stoic but warm. She speaks simply to the point of being crude, but her emotional bravery is unlimited. and just loves people, can not help it. Gandon Elf must be as eerie as her name suggests – perfectly believable as a member of this family, but also outside of it, as if Loti had somehow given birth to a mermaid. In other roles, Gandon’s former beauty and intelligence can make her look very special. here they work exquisitely, the groove on her forehead like a imprint of pain.

Screenwriter and director Michael McGowan turns a sad story into one of the most reassuring things you have ever seen.Courtesy of AMPS Productions Inc. / Mongrel Media

As for Pill – she is impressive, one of those rare actors whose skin is almost transparent. You can practically feel the snow on her cheek. Watch her eyes darken when Yoli realizes what Elf means by saying, “They have clinics in Switzerland.” Watch her face in a perfectly funny moment, when a dude from her past equates writing with cleaning septic tanks – in the first nanosecond she is amused, disgusted and slightly offended. in the next, he thinks about it and agrees.

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McGowan wisely puts the backbone of his film – a series of conversations between Yoli and Elf, where their funny, fraternal way denies how desperately urgent both of their appeals are – and then builds it, adding just the information we need. currently needed. Some of the siblings’ flashbacks as young girls feel too sweet, but that is a small drawback compared to how thoughtful this film is about life after grief. how many lines and moments are instant classics? and what a feat it is that the characters and relationships become so fully realized that a reference to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is fun, wise and moving at the same time.

Yoli admires the kind of people “who have a great capacity for things”, but we see that she is one of them. The chaos of life is its subject. Hope is torturous, and also necessary. As Yoli puts it, referring to Elf, who quotes DH Lawrence, “We must live, no matter how many heavens have fallen.”

Special for The Globe and Mail

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