A divine comedy.8/10
Whoopi Goldberg is one of my favourite comediennes, and always strikes me as the female equivalent of Eddie Murphy. She can really make a part her own, from a charlatan psychic in Ghost, to her role in Sister Act.
Whoopi plays Delores Van Cartier, a lounge singer from Las Vegas. A very unsuccessful one too, something that she knows all too well. Her Mobster boyfriend Vince LaRocca (Harvey Keitel) kills one of his cronies, and Delores has the bad luck of being a witness. Forced to go on the run, the police put her in the last place Vince would ever think to look for her before she can testify against him. A convent!
Now assuming the identity of a nun (Sister Mary Clarence), the only one who knows Delores' true identity is the Mother Superior (Maggie Smith in a terrific role). Needless to say, they don't hit it off. Delores is miserable, and the Mother Superior considers her brash presence a disruption to the convent.
However, Delores manages to have quite an impact on the rest of the convent, especially the choir. She makes friends with the terminally cheerful Sister Mary Patrick (Kathy Najimy) and the mousy Sister Mary Robert (Wendy Makkena).
Delores manages to turn the choir from a tone deaf group into a bunch of swinging sisters! Opening the doors of the church to the public, the convent becomes a big hit, much to the disapproval of the Mother Superior, who prefers the traditional ways. The new-found popularity of the convent also exposes Delores to Vince, putting her in danger.
At first glance, Sister Act seems a little cliched. There are a lot of stereotyped characters. Delores as the unconventional newcomer who shakes up the establishment, the Mother Superior who is adverse to change, Sister Mary Robert as the shy nun who finds confidence when she discovers she has a wonderful singing voice and so on.
Because it has a great cast, the film rises above most cliches. Whoopi is great to watch when teaching the nuns to sing My God instead of My Guy. Her verbal sparring with Maggie Smith is good too. Maggie Smith manages to inject a great deal of much needed depth into her thinly written character. Her concerns about the sisters' naivete in the outside world are not altogether wrong.
Kathy Najimy is wonderfully funny as the nun with a sunny disposition. She gets a lot of memorable lines, especially my personal favourite one:
"I guess I've always been upbeat, optimistic, perky. My mother used to say that girl is pure sunshine. She'll either grow up to be a nun, or a stewardess. Coffee?"
Wendy Makkena is great as Sister Mary Robert. She's actually a surprisingly sexy screen presence. So sweet and innocent, but as her confidence builds an edge creeps into her character and she becomes almost irresistible. Her happiness is very infectious. She makes a good trio with Whoopi and Kathy Najimy, and she's always a joy to watch in the choir. Although it's not her belting out those numbers, I still get a feeling of well-being whenever I watch those scenes.
Mary Wickes also puts in a good appearance as the stern Sister Mary Lazarus. She gets a lot of great one liners, and her timing is spot on. She manages to establish a fine rapport with any of the other characters without robbing them of their screen time. Overall, Sister Act has a fine ensemble cast.
Harvey Keitel is adequate, but his part feels inconsequential when compared to the others. He takes centre stage towards the end, and that damages the finale of the film a little. It becomes more daft towards the climax with the convent scouring Las Vegas for Delores, but fortunately recovers when they give a concert for the Pope.
The best parts of the film are the nun's musical numbers, because it doesn't feel in any way blasphemous. It makes you want to rejoice along with the rest of the choir, and their enthusiasm feels very infectious. Overall, I found Sister Act to be a lot of fun and makes you feel good in the process.
Pity Sister Act 2 didn't make you feel the same way.