“Sister Aimee”: Film Review | Sundance 2019

Sister Aimee
Image from the Sundance Institute website

A dazzling feature debut by directing duo Samantha Buck & Marie Schlingmann that stars Anna Margaret Hollyman as famed 1920s evangelist Sister Aimee who does some devilish acts to get right with God in this artistic interpretation of a real event.

Have you ever found yourself asking “what would happen if you threw ‘Florence Foster Jenkins,’ ‘La La Land,’ the art production of Wes Anderson, ‘No Country for Old Men’ & ‘The Magnificent Seven’ into a blender and made a movie out of it,” then you have your answer. The directorial debut of wives Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann, “Sister Aimee” is part musical, part goofy period piece, part western and is exactly as crazy and messy as it sounds. About half the time, it doesn’t work… like at all. But when it works, it works marvelously.

The story is based (very, very loosely) on the true story of evangelist and performer Sister Aimee (played in the film by the exquisite Anna Margaret Hollyman) who in real life did actually go missing for a short period of time in the 1920s which caused mainstream hysteria amongst her fandom. Buck and Schlingmann take complete (and I mean COMPLETE) artistic creativity in crafting the events of what happened to Sister Aimee when she was missing. In their version of events, Sister Aimee becomes satisfied with her existence and mainstream popularity and is swept off her feet by a writer with delusions of extreme (and I mean extreme) grandeur, Teddy, (Michael Mosley); the two decide to fake their deaths and set off on a journey across the American Southwest in an attempt for Teddy to hunt down a mythical Mexican folk hero, using the intriguing Rey (a wonderful Andrea Suarez Paz) as their guide. Hilarity ensues. Musical numbers ensue. And WTF-moments ensue.

What doesn’t work for “Sister Aimee” is that there are too many genres and tones on display; what does work for “Sister Aimee” is its technical craft and leading duo. Hollyman’s comic timing is exquisite and her musical numbers are a dazzle to watch (yes, she is a fantastic dancer and singer and there’s a wonderful tap dance), capturing the film’s absurd comedy while Suarez Paz keeps the film’s dramatic heart beating with her mysterious and complex performance. The two work-off each other beautifully, somehow creating a balanced pace while juggling the different tones and genres the film has going on.

At its heart, “Sister Aimee” is a meditation on storytelling and myth-making, literally. Combined with top-notch production values (whether it’s Jonathan Rudak’s colorful and eye-popping period production design or costume designer Juliana Hoffpauir’s emotive and 1920s-on-point garments) and a stellar score by Graham Reynolds that exudes the mischief, mystery and curiosity that makes the film so intriguing to watch with Buck and Schlingmann’s naughty sensibilities, what they’ve created together is completely original and true art at its peak. While Sister Aimee is running away from the lord to find herself, you, the artist, can expect to be muttering “Praise Be” to the art by its end.

JAKKAWI: B-

“Sister Aimee” had its world premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the NEXT Category. At press time, it has yet to find a distributor.

Director/Screenplay: Samantha Buck & Marie Schlingmann.
Music by: Graham Reynolds.
Cinematography: Carlos Valdes-Lora.
Production: Kill Claudio Productions.
With: Anna Margaret Hollyman, Michael Mosley, Andrea Suarez Paz, Julie White, Macon Blair, Amy Hargreaves.

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