little sister (2016)

Zach Clark's Little Sister is, at once, about a great number of things and also about nothing, in particular. In its nothingness, it captures the heart of the American suburban experience in the early 21st century. It speaks of entire communities of people who are, somehow, not enough of anything at all to lay claim to an authentic sense of self. What they have are their tiny shreds of lifestyles that were once apathetically, numbly and half-heartedly engaged in; "bought-into" really, as a way of refreshing a self they'd grown tired of. They "cared about politics" just enough to watch endless hours of politically-flavored television, yet never engaged deeply enough with it as to run for any form of office (community or nationally) or even form their own political theories about the world outside of packaged ideology. They went through a "goth phase" to the degree of home decor, clothing, taste in music, proclaiming Halloween as their "favorite holiday", etc. though never became 'counter-culture' enough to do anything truly outside the norm. Sexuality seems to go hand in hand with isolation, rather than connection, always involving drug-use to curb inhibition or virtual partners via the internet (when an actual flesh and blood partner presents too many interpersonal complexities to navigate, like emotional fast food). All in all, they seem sheltered and naive, anti-social due to a lack of exposure and instead of building cocoons from which to emerge as adults, simply continue to build the walls of their respective bubbles thicker and thicker, hoping to avoid reality and the world around them at any cost. 

The use of drugs portrayed here, especially alcohol and marijuana, capture the sense of a coping mechanism that results in being semi-present for life's potentially-deeper experiences. The brother character relates smoking weed while deployed in Iraq as "kind of stupid .. but sometimes you need to get stupid over there". The same philosophy seems to apply to each element of life, a permeating sense of dissatisfied avoidance in the characters' every action. Clark posits that this is the key to the American suburban experience, a life spent barely engaging, inhibited in some way or another, an entire community joining together under the shared truncated experience. Little Sister is a bleak portrait of something that was never very interesting to begin with. In a way, it's a movie about uninteresting people who are uninterested in life. During one of the final mother/daughter scenes of the film, the mother pours out her feelings as a confessional, she isn't so much speaking to her daughter as she is telling "someone" about her inner struggle. The film comes across in much the same way, a portrait of people stuck in their private worlds, unable to ask for help and unable to help themselves. That it takes place during the 2008 American election adds a glimmer of depth, a hint that the film may be trying to say more. The use of audio from the Obama/McCain debates is as poignant as the viewer makes it, much like its characters, the film is hesitant to say much more, taking on a millennial "I'll just leave this here, do whatever you want with it" approach. This is the crux of the statement in itself, being unable to cross through life's thresholds outside of the safe confines of a comfort zone, a need to return to the womb. The family all have transgressions to fulfill, and cannot do it without the dependent aid of the others. Much of our lead character, Colleen's growth seems to stem from overcoming an inhibition toward drug use. She is unable to engage in the perceived-risky behavior at a Brooklyn bar, but feels safe with a beer at a childhood friend's house and eventually samples her mother's edibles. It all leads to standard zany antics, unsure of how to wrap things up, we end up in a chase sequence.  

Little Sister is a bold film about timid people. It is bold in its honesty, its ability to portray repugnant people. Like its characters, it has more within it to express than it ever comes close to expressing; their lives are either a series of missed opportunities or, at the very best, outcomes that pale in comparison to their potential. In this way, it is about the contemporary American life; it has so much potential as a film and comes across as such a lump by the end of it. The film is a drama in which nothing of any dramatic or thematic consequence seems to happen, and yet, by its very being and its very existence, it signifies much about modern life. It is realist in that sense and Clark begins to resemble Visconti. There is nothing admirable about these characters, we can barely feel their pain, there is little thematic being stated in Clark's film, and yet, once again, it strikes at something deep. An untold story of the unimpressive, it causes discomfort to watch in many regards. Maybe it rings too true, maybe it feels like impending doom (the film ends just as the recession is looming), or maybe the film creates characters out of the piece of ourselves we don't like very much, the part we try our best not to identify with. Bravo to clark for making a seemingly simple, yet challenging film. 

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