Opposites Attract in Sister Act

Sister Act, Touchstone Pictures (1992).

I grew up near two Catholic convents. One of them is for cloistered nuns, which means that these women do not leave the property, and have taken a vow of silence. The other is just a regular convent with nuns that go out into the community and live their life according to the vows they need to follow. Not only that, but being brought up in the Catholic church meant that I interacted with nuns on a decently frequent basis. Needless to say, I’m very familiar with them and their lifestyle. So, when Sister Act, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith, came out, it was a no-brainer that my parents would want to go see it and take me with them since we were firmly planted in the nun neighborhood.

I don’t know if convents take in witnesses to crimes that are at risk of being snuffed, but that’s basically how the movie starts out. Goldberg’s character, Deloris, sees her mafia boss boyfriend kill someone, and she needs to take refuge in an impoverished convent, which is the last place he would look for her. While there, Mother Superior, played by Smith, renames her Sister Mary Clarence in order to fool the other nuns. SMC, because typing her full nun name is too tedious, notices that the convent could use a little life, and since she was a lounge singer in Reno, she brings that much needed life back to the convent in the form of revamping their shitty choir. Of course, Mother Superior has major problems with SMC because she’s rebellious, outspoken, not humble, and supposedly, ungrateful for the help. Nevertheless, SMC works with the singing nuns, reworking Motown classics by giving them lyrics dedicated to God, while Mother Superior has her holy panties in a bunch over it. The nuns gain local fame, the mafia boyfriend finds out, kidnaps SMC, the nuns go to Reno to save her, and then the Pope comes to see the nuns sing in the ultimate church concert.

Sister Act could be saying something about change and sacrifice. In the beginning, Mother Superior is nun too happy (get it?) about the fact that SMC is invading her convent and filling the other nuns’ eyes with stars. SMC thinks that Mother Superior needs to slow her role and be more lighthearted about life. The two only see eye-to-eye towards the very end when SMC’s life is in danger. It’s very clear that SMC and Mother Superior do not want to change who they are, and aren’t accepting of one another because they are so extremely different from each other. Both of these women are very much entrenched in their own respective ideals and lifestyles. In order for these two women to cohabitate peacefully, they need to let go of certain things. SMC needs to let go of her previous wild life so she can be safe, and Mother Superior needs to let go of the reins a little in order for SMC to work her magic so the convent, and its inhabitants, can flourish.

From a surface view, these two characters are opposites, but they have more in common than they realize. Obviously, the way they live their lives is totally out of sync with each other. Nuns take vows that are designed to keep them in a simplistic and minimalistic mindset and environment. They are given the basic necessities, and are expected to live humbly. Mother Superior takes this very seriously, and doesn’t let her flock of nuns stray from these expectations. SMC, as Deloris, lives lavishly and sinfully in Reno. Her boyfriend, you know, the guy that wants to kill her, is married. Not only that, but she drinks, she smokes, she curses, and has all that delicious premarital sex that a nun would never partake in. Could there be two more opposite characters?

But, let’s give it a closer examination. Both of them want to be respected, both of them want to live how they choose, both of them care deeply about the other singing nuns, both of them do not want to be told what to do, both of them can be hard headed and stubborn, and both of them think that they are the boss. Most of these character traits might not be seen as very positive, but it’s what makes them tick. These two women, who are seemingly on opposite sides of the spectrum are, in fact, cut from the same cloth. Maybe not the Shroud of Turin type of cloth, but cloth, nonetheless.

As a fun and mostly light-hearted movie, Sister Act is an amusing flick. The singing and dancing nuns always bring a smile to my face because I like to imagine that real-life nuns could pull this sort of thing off. I mean, it would be awesome to see it in person! After watching the movie with my parents way back in ’92, I remember my mom laughing afterwards about Goldberg’s shaking and bouncing hips in her nun’s habit because it was just such a silly sight. Also, as a fan of Motown music since I was a kid, that aspect is always appreciated in any movie. As Sister Act hits the 30 year mark, it’s easy to say that this is now an all-time classic movie that I hope nuns all over the world have seen.

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