All My Puny Sorrows (2023)

All My Puny Sorrows (2023)

A deeply felt study of grief and inherited mental illness that struggles to state its ideas clearly



Alison Pill, Aly Mawji, Amybeth McNulty
103 min


Speaking as a writer: writers are very good at being sad, but sometimes we're just as good at being impossible to understand.

What it's about

Still reeling from her father's death, a writer from a former Mennonite family struggles to communicate with her sister who has just attempted suicide.

The take

Based on the novel by Women Talking author Miriam Toews, this adaptation of All My Puny Sorrows holds clear reverence for its source material but falls short of making a case for its existence as a film. Toews's prose—significant parts of which writer/director Michael McGowan has kept intact in the dialogue—may be appropriate for a book that allows full internal access to its narrator, but on film her words come across as overly articulate and artificial, even if they speak beautiful, harsh truths about grief. And without a defined visual identity or proper flow of ideas to back up its admittedly complex characters (played with authentic tenderness and force by Alison Pill, Sarah Gadon, and Mare Winningham), the film ends up stuck in its own darkness, unable to give a proper form to all its thoughts.

What stands out

A stunning 10-minute scene halfway through the film—all taking place in one hospital room, between Alison Pill and Sarah Gadon—acts almost as a microcosm for the whole thing, and is arguably a better piece of drama than the rest of the movie taken together. Here, both sisters Yoli and Elf lay out all of their residual anger and conflicted feelings, ultimately just trying to make sense of the impenetrable sadness they both feel. The two actresses help each other swing from one mood to the next, proving that Miriam Toews's words would probably work even better on stage than on screen.


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