Image Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Sundance Film Review: A Little Prayer


A Little Prayer
Sundance Film Festival

Director: Angus MacLachlan

A Little Prayer is a reminder that the once-budding young playwright and filmmaker Angus MacLachlan has come a long way. The film takes place in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and centers on a seemingly idyllic family. Bill (David Strathairn, Good Night and Good Luck) and Venida (Celia Weston, Alice) live happily in a house that has plenty of room for their son, David (Will Pullen, Dickinson), and his wife, Tammy (Jane Levy, Emily’s Extraordinary Playlist). Tammy is the favored houseguest, having formed a close bond with her in-laws while David was deployed in Afghanistan. David and Bill work together, and this affords Bill insight to the fact that David is involved in a dalliance with an administrative assistant, Narcedalia (Dascha Polonco, In The Heights, When They See Us). 

Bill finds himself caught between his desire to understand and take care of his troubled son, who hasn’t been the same since he returned home, and a strong desire to protect his daughter-in-law. Bill, a Vietnam veteran, must navigate the minefield of disasters waiting to happen to complete his self-appointed mission. The further he delves into things, the more clear it becomes that collateral damage is inevitable.

MacLachlan, best known for 2005’s Junebug, is a rare dramatist who can deliver a story about a family in turmoil without resorting to histrionics and overly melodramatic situations. A Little Prayer tackles substance abuse, domestic violence, PTSD and reproductive rights. Most of it fits into the story quite organically without feeling like McLachlan is ticking items off of a checklist. The dialogue is low key and to the point, and the movie is refreshingly devoid of obvious “Oscar clip” speeches. 

MacLachlan handles the dramatic elements better than the comic relief, however, and a subplot involving Bill and Venida’s daughter, Patti (Anna Camp, Pitch Perfect), is puzzling at times. Camp’s performance is too broad, and as she carries a metal detector around the neighborhood looking for gold, it often feels like she’s wandered into the wrong movie. The scenes between Bill and Tammy, on the other hand, are pure gold and need no such device. The father-daughter tenderness between these two is beautifully portrayed, and Polonco shines in a terrific sequence that gives us a chance to look at her character from an entirely different perspective.

Strathairn is still indisputably the center around which the film revolves, a rare actor who seems as if he couldn’t give a dishonest performance if he tried. He’s at the top of his game here. A Little Prayer is a sincere and well-acted character study, and for those who are tired of big and boisterous blockbusters that have little to do with real life, this touching portrait of a family in trouble is likely to prove quite appealing. –Patrick Gibbs


Jan. 28th, 11:55 AM / Park Avenue Theatre (Park City)
Jan. 29th, 6:00 PM / Screening Room (Sundance Mountain Resort)

Jan. 24th, 8:00 AM – Available Until Jan. 29th, 11:55 PM