TIFF 2021 review: ‘ALL MY PUNY SORROWS’ is a soulful navigation of familial darkness.

ALL MY PUNY SORROWS

Based on the international best-selling novel by Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows is the poignant story of two sisters-one a concert pianist obsessed with ending her life, the other, a writer, who in wrestling with this decision, makes profound discoveries about her herself.


Depression, religion, and feminism uniquely intersect in All My Puny Sorrows. Flooded with grief and emotion, two sisters are forced to confront their devastating past and come to terms with the inevitable future. Yoli is a writer steeped in her own perceived mediocrity and exists in the shadow of her renowned concert pianist sister. Elf has money, a supportive husband, and fame. Not yet recovered from their father’s suicide, she is determined to take her own life, with or without Yoli’s assistance. Two different paths emerge from the same childhood experiences. Is it too late to save each other?

Director Michael McGowan‘s screenplay pays full tribute to novelist Miriam Toews‘ original text by keeping these characters unapologetically demonstrative and smart. The film swiftly takes an ax to the patriarchal religious structure. That’s really the smallest part of deconstructing preconceived notions in this story. All My Puny Sorrows is about the reclamation of power and what that looks and feels like for each of the Von Riesen family members: dad included. Well-read audiences may connect on a different level. Ironically, the heavy literary aspect might also be the film’s downfall, with some viewers unable to discern between quotes and original dialogue. It will either win or lose audiences in its verbosity. I’m hoping that’s not the case, as those moments are akin to poetry.

Amybeth McNulty, who I adored as the titular character in Netflix’s Anna With an E, shows us a completely different side of her nature. She plays Yoli’s unfiltered teen daughter. She’s an exceptional scene partner for Alison Pill. Mare Winningham, as matriarch Lottie, is a spark plug. The no-nonsense, tongue-in-cheek way of communicating is refreshing and funny. Sarah Gadon, as Elf, is determined to convince Yoli to assist in her suicide. Gadon is soft, resolute, and somehow totally powerful. Alison Pill plays Yoli with the fierceness she deserves. She’s a writer with grand notions of rescue, and yet also a pragmatic understanding of the familial darkness. Her sporadic narration gives us insight into their Mennonite upbringing. Pill’s vulnerability and volatility make All My Puny Sorrows a massive success. The nuance of this performance is captivating. Gadon and Pill’s scenes are electric. There is a palpable sense of sadness and honesty in this film that will surely be a gut-punch for many. People will be talking about this one.


You can find out more about TIFF 2021 at

https://www.tiff.net/

About Liz Whittemore

Liz grew up in northern Connecticut and was memorizing movie dialogue from Shirley Temple to A Nightmare on Elm Street at a very early age. She will watch just about any film all the way through (no matter how bad) just to prove a point. A loyal New Englander, a lover of Hollywood, and true inhabitant of The Big Apple.