Runtime: 91 Minutes
Director/Writer: Angus MacLachlan
Stars: David Straithairn, Celia Weston, Jane Levy, Will Cullen, Anna Camp, Dascha Polanco, Billie Roy
By Morgan Roberts
“A Little Prayer” is a family dramedy that tackles family dynamics and expectations in an extremely human way. When Bill (David Strathairn) suspects his son Will (Will Pullen) is cheating on his wife, he attempts to use his patriarchal influence to shield his daughter-in-law Tammy (Jane Levy) and make whole what he sees as broken. However, through this journey, he is confronted with changing worldviews and generational divides that force him to face his own realities. Written and directed by Angus MacLachlan, who wrote the 2005 Sundance little-film-that-could “Junebug,” this film’s aim for grounded humanity simply makes it shine.
The films that always strike a chord for me are the ones where we feel plopped into the lives of our characters. We get context clues but nothing is spelled out for the audience. Instead, you witness a group of lived-in characters in a specific part of their story. That’s exactly what “A Little Prayer” does and the performances are instantly inviting in this atmosphere.
Straithaim leads this incredible ensemble with grace and compassion. He understands that while Bill is a caring person, he is also constrained by his ideas of gender roles and expectations. Bill’s personal obstacles are evident in the way he struggles to understand Will post-military service. The struggle to connect with your children, and to connect as men is a hard but necessary part of life to examine. Far too often, the father/son relationship is depicted as very two dimensional. The father is either the best friend or the worst enemy. Even in a boarder sense, as millennials begin to address their own generational traumas, their parents are also beginning to have their own awakening on the matter. But with “A Little Prayer,” we see a nuanced, complicated relationship between father and son and are rooting for it to succeed because of its grounded portrayal.
Likewise, the moment we are introduced to Tammy, we are instantly on her side. She is warm, kind, dutiful, and thoughtful largely because Levy absolutely shines in this role. There is something about her performance that is endearing in the most human ways possible and her work alongside Straithairn is tremendous. There is so much heart in their interactions as these two navigate their changing family dynamics and there’s a scene between these two that will have you becoming a puddle of a person.
It’s also interesting seeing Tammy mirrored with the other women of the family she married into. First, with her mother-in-law Venida (Celia Weston), an all-knowing force, but one who uses gentle influence and space to encourage her family. Then, there is Bill and Venida’s daughter Patti (Anna Camp), who blows into town as she experiences her own troubles with her partner. Patti and Tammy, though opposite in their expressiveness, face similar turmoil as they must navigate their complicated romantic partnerships. The three main women of the film are an interesting trio for the unique impact of their interactions and shared issues. While the men fail to communicate, the women are able to say everything without uttering a single word. For instance, for much of her time on screen, Camp gets to be the endearing comedic relief, helping us get from one heavy subject to the next. But as her character’s journey diverts from the others, there is a knowing look between Patti and Tammy that speaks volumes and elevates the film’s depiction of generational perspective.
“A Little Prayer” is a sincere film about family, connection, and the ways we confront to the cycle of generational trauma. It packs a lot of heart which makes it captivating from start to finish. With incredible performances from everyone involved, it is certainly a film that will leave an emotional impact for any and every generation of viewers.