TIFF Review: All My Puny Sorrows Is Poignant, But Doesn't Dig Deep Enough

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TIFF Review: All My Puny Sorrows Is Poignant, But Doesn't Dig Deep Enough

Steeped in heartbreaking turmoil and layered performances, the film is lackluster when exploring the characters and their history with mental illness.

Warning: The film and this review mentions depression and suicide. 

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Written and directed by Michael McGowan, All My Puny Sorrows is an adaptation of Miriam Toews’ 2014 novel of the same name. The film, a drama that centers two sisters, one who is recovering from attempted suicide and the other who is pleading with her not to die, is a mish-mash of intensely-felt emotions and half-baked character backstories. When the story is focused on the present, it goes a long way in its willingness to bring up uncomfortable truths and feelings. Steeped in heartbreaking turmoil and layered performances, the film is lackluster when exploring the characters and their history with mental illness.

Yoli Von Riesen (Alison Pill) is a successful writer who is struggling to finish her next novel after the last one bombed. She’s in the middle of a divorce from an ex-husband who is frustrated by her refusal to sign the papers when she is called back to her hometown following her sister Elfrieda’s (Sarah Gadon), “Elf” for short, suicide attempt. Yoli is angry and frustrated with Elf, a renowned pianist who is resigned to death despite her sister’s protests and unwillingness to let her go. In the midst of all this is their mother, Lottie (Mare Winningham), a stoic woman who rarely lets her emotions past the wall she’s seemingly put up after Jake (Donal Logue), her husband and the women’s father, died by suicide years prior. 

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