- Movie Rating -

All My Puny Sorrows (2022)

| May 3, 2022

Despite Johnny Mandel and Michael Altman’s legendary theme to MASH, suicide is anything but painless.  It does bring on many changes, but with it come heartbreak, confusion and years and years of searching for a punctuation, an end-mark, an answer.  Suicide is chaos and despair for those left behind.

This was my family’s experience.  In 1987, when I was 16, one of my close relatives committed suicide and it landed on my family like a ton of boulders.  It hurt – it still hurts.  It was confusing.  And the pain seemed endless.  I don’t know what hovers over the mind of someone in such a state that suicide seems to be the only answer, but I can tell you that for those standing outside, it’s is Hell on Earth.

For those reasons, I was gritting my teeth during All My Puny Sorrows, a drama about two sisters, one of whom is determined to commit suicide.  I came to this story with the full intent of trying to recognize my own experience.  But it is not here.  I can tell you that suicide does not come packaged with snappy, quasi-cute dialogue and quirky characters.  This movie was aggravating.

Obviously, I haven’t read the material upon which this story is based.  Miriam Towe wrote the book “All My Puny Sorrows” and I have a real sense that the book took place more in the character’s heads then in the room.  That might have been a better approach because this movie feels like it is trying to find a balance between serious Lifetime Movie geography and a sense of characters who talk in a way that no one in the entire world talks, especially not in this situation.

I understand that the humor was part of the Toew’s narrative, but in Michael McGowan’s film (which he also adapted) the humor feels like a mask for something else, like the humor is out-reaching rather than laid bare.  The problem is that you hear the humor first and then situation second, and that makes humor mixed with the story of a suicide feel dangerously inappropriate.

What comes of this story are two sisters Elf (Sarah Gadon) and Yoli (Alison Pill) Von Riesen who have been raised in a restrictive Mennonite upbringing in Winnipeg.  Their father Jake (Donal Logue) was a man who stood outside of the restrictions of the elders, letting his daughter study music, and attempted to get a local library going.  One afternoon, he stood on the railroad tracks and ended his own life, leaving his family in shattered turmoil, particularly their mother Lottie (Mare Winningham) who was then charged with caring for two daughters whose hearts were forever broken.

Elf is a beautiful young woman, a concert pianist whose hands can weave the most transporting, heavenly music.  She ends up in the hospital after her second suicide attempt and so Yoli comes in from Toronto where she is alarmed that her sister wants to her to help her get to Switzerland where there is a clinic that can offer an assisted suicide.

And here is where the movie loses me.

The dialogue between Elf and Yoli is snappy, clipped and full of literary references.  It might be fun to listen to if there wasn’t such a dead serious issue hanging in the air.  Both girls are extremely well-read, Elf writes her suicide note with a quote from Philliip Larkin’s poem “Days.”

That, for me, stands in the way.  The issue of Elf’s two suicide attempts clears the air from all the frivolous intellectual nonsense.  I didn’t care about their banter.  I didn’t care about the literary references.  I cared about the life of this woman whose story seemed to be clouded by all of the above.  And for someone who has stood in the vast emptiness that follows the months after a suicide, this seems especially frustrating.

I know, I know.  This is based on a popular book, but I couldn’t help bringing my feelings into the proceedings.  Those feelings run deep and, yeah, maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way.  My own experience is just that, my own experience.  But when telling this story, in a sense, it is telling my story and the stories of hundreds of thousands of people like myself, and clouding things up with sarcastic wit and literary hoo-ha just seems like an insult.  Sorry.  Having been there, I guess I needed something a little more sobering and real.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Drama