TIFF 2021: ‘All My Puny Sorrows’ Handles Its Subject Matter With The Gravity It Deserves

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All My Puny Sorrows - But Why Tho

Content Warning: Suicide

All My Puny Sorrows is written and directed by Michael McGowan and based on the novel of the same name by Miriam Toews. Yoli Von Riesen (Alison Pill) and her sister Elf (Sarah Gadon) couldn’t be more different: Yoli is a novelist struggling with the dreaded sophomore slump and the wreckage of her own marriage, while Elf is a gifted pianist showered with fame and fortune. When Elf attempts to take her own life, Yoli frequently visits her in the hospital and attempts to convince her life is worth living. In the process, years of repressed trauma bubble up with most of it centered around the girls’ father Jake (Donal Logue) and his own suicide by train.

Suicide is not a subject matter I take lightly; I’ve struggled with my mental health in the past, and that includes fighting back some suicidal thoughts. Thankfully, All My Puny Sorrows handles this subject with the gravity and the grace it deserves. It never vilifies Elf for attempting to take her own life and it explores why someone would want to. As Elf explains to Yoli, her depression is something that’s a constant in her life. Even with all the success she’s had, dark thoughts still creep into her head. Watching the film, I was reminded of the Fantasia Fest entry #Blue_Whalealthough it’s in a different genre it tackles similar themes and never seeks to sensationalize them.

Gadon and Pill’s interactions are the emotional center of the film, and both actresses really sell the fractured bond between sisters. As Elf, Gadon is mostly quiet, often replying to others with a well-placed verbal jab. As Yoli, Pill plays a hot mess of a character—Yoli can’t connect to her teenage daughter, she struggles with whether or not she still has feelings for her husband, and she has a fling with the most boring man alive, Finbar (Michael Musi, who plays milquetoast with ease). Things eventually boil over in the middle of the film when both sisters have a screaming match, giving way to years of pent-up tension. Gadon and Pill dig deep into wells of emotion for the scene and look utterly spent at its end, which is a feeling that the audience will probably share.

The film’s supporting cast could have used the same treatment. Logue is only in a handful of scenes, and the events leading to his character’s suicide are only hinted at—which is a shame, as it’s clear that depression is a trait that runs in the Von Riesen family. And while he has a great talent for staging emotional conflict between his cast members, McGowan’s script is rife with purple prose. Characters often use too many words to get their point across. I’m not sure if this was a part of the novel, but there were certain speeches that had me scratching my head and saying “No human being would ever say that.”

All My Puny Sorrows is a well-crafted family drama that explores themes of suicide and mental health with the grace they deserve, thanks to a genuine rapport and connection between its two leads. I’m happy that McGowan put thought and care into making this movie, and its ending is definitely one that will stick with me.

All My Puny Sorrows premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival 2021.

All My Puny Sorrows
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

All My Puny Sorrows is a well-crafted family drama that explores themes of suicide and mental health with the grace they deserve, thanks to a genuine rapport and connection between its two leads. I’m happy that McGowan put thought and care into making this movie, and its ending is definitely one that will stick with me.