This week T has asked about my must-see movies. I’ve had a hard time with this, because I am not a very serious movie watcher. If your recommendation of a movie includes the words “moving,” “challenging,” or “thought-provoking,” you’ve probably lost me. If you mention details of cinematography or nuances of the director’s artistic vision, I’m definitely thinking about something else while I pretend to listen to you.
So a list of my favorite movies is pretty unremarkable, and I have had a hard time conferring “must-see” status on any of them. So I’ll use my space today to write a defense for one of my all-time favorites that is definitely underrated. Here are five reasons to pull Sister Act 2 out of your dusty collection of VHS tapes and give it another watch:
Best Teacher Movie Ever
In my first year of teaching, I watched all of the “inspirational” teacher movies I could get my hands on, and I’m not joking when I say that this was the one that best represented the challenges of the classroom. Without taking itself too seriously, SA2 illustrates the frustration of standing in front of students who don’t care about your course content, who don’t respect you as an authority, who are afraid to try and fail, who are too preoccupied with problems of life outside of school to put out any effort. Even in most urban settings, the problem isn’t so much teaching in a dangerous “gangster’s paradise” as much as it’s trying to convince a bunch of hormonal, indifferent teenagers that what happens in the classroom actually matters.
Sister Mary Clarence illustrates the wisdom of refusing to give students the upper hand by taking them too seriously. She gives them respect without validating their foolishness (“Sketch, I like you a lot. But I don’t want you catchin’ z’s in my class no more.”) She gives them realistic perspective (“If that’s the way you feel, there’s the door. Don’t let it hit you in the butt on the way out.”) She enters their world on her own terms, communicating clearly: “I do not need your approval.” (<joining the rap circle>: “I got the flow, you all gotta go, so pick up your bags so we can go, ho-ho! Uh-huh, ow, ow, NOW!”) If I could have had the same unflappable attitude as Mary Clarence in my first classroom, my career might have taken a completely different course.
The Reverend Mother
If you love Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey, you can fill the void in your soul between Sundays by watching her play the role of the Reverend Mother. As long ago as 1993, Smith was playing the devil-may-care old lady part with comedic precision. She should have won an Oscar for her brilliant delivery of the climactic line, “Go with God, Crispy.”
They Don’t Write Dialogue Like That Any More
I love almost every line in the movie, but in the interest of space I’ll try to limit myself to my favorites to quote here:
Father Maurice: Now, as I do with all of my new teachers, I’d like to share with you my theories about education, gleaned from my years of experience here as the principal of St. Francis.
Sister Mary Clarence: I am an open book.
Sister: Mmm, hmm. Anything else to go with that? That’s it? Discipline?
Father: Unfortunately, I think that’s pretty much all we can expect here.
Deloris VanCartier: “Let’s get one thing straight, my dear Ahmal: I am not now, nor have I ever been “a Las Vegas showgirl.” I am a headliner.”
Reverend Mother: “You are a perfect example of how a sow’s ear can be turned into a silk purse.”
Sister Mary Patrick: “My mother used to say that nothing is impossible as long as you carry with you a little bit of faith and a big roll of electrical tape.”
Have You Heard the Soundtrack?
Deloris sings a great medley of Motown hits in her Vegas show. Ahmal wows the crowd with his unexpected high note in “O Happy Day.” “Ball of Confusion” rings almost prophetic with its description of a chaotic world in need of faith. And the whole-choir production of “Joyful, Joyful”? It’s cinematic history, as far as I’m concerned–including, not despite Frank Hay (Hay, Ho)’s terrible early-nineties white rapping. If I had to pick my favorite song of all time, this might be it.
Surprisingly Moving Moments
How about Rita and Tanya’s beautiful rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow”? Or that moment at the end when (SPOILER ALERT!) Rita’s mom says she’s proud of her? And I’m sorry, if you don’t give a standing ovation when (SPOILER ALERT!) the St. Francis School Choir is announced as the winner of the music competition, you’ve got a heart of stone. Period.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, now I want to go watch this movie again.