Sundance Review: ‘A Little Prayer’

David Strathairn And Jane Levy's Strong Performances Can't Save Angus MacLachlan’s Insular Family Drama

In A Little Prayer, David Strathairn plays a modern Southern gentleman. He drinks coffee with his daughter-in-law every morning, runs the family business with his son, and struggles to open up with others about their problems. It’s the latter issue that drives the tension in Angus MacLachlan’s latest writing and directing effort. 

Strathairn’s Bill, along with his wife Venida (Celia Weston), can’t decide whether or not to help their daughter, Patti (Anna Camp), by giving her money for a divorce attorney. While she is an inconsiderate houseguest, leaving others to look after her child and pushing back against everything her parents say, they are legitimately torn over whether or not they should help their child get out of a bad situation. 

This predicament is cemented when Bill discovers that his son and business partner, David (Will Pullen), is having an affair with the office secretary, Narcedalia (Dascha Polanco). Bill is quite fond of his daughter-in-law Tammy (Jane Levy), who jumps in to help with his grandchild with no questions and is always around to help the elderly couple in any way she can. His love for Tammy conflicts with his Southern mindset of staying out of another’s business, driving him to question the right thing to do.

Most of the script is spent building up the tension of these everyday tragedies. Bill digs deeper into finding answers about his son’s marriage and Tammy eventually gets an abortion with little indication that she knows what’s happening with her husband. Both Strathairn and Levy give strong, understated performances but they don’t do enough to make A Little Prayer interesting. Because we mainly see life from their perspectives, we hear about the drama propelling these storylines rather than seeing it for ourselves. 

MacLachlan’s best known for writing 2006’s Junebug, the film that put Amy Adams on the map. Like A Little Prayer, it took place in the South, focused on familiar issues, and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Unlike the former film, the latter doesn’t have enough going on to justify an entire film. When every aspect of something is subdued, it fails to make an impact. A Little Prayer doesn’t have an Amy Adams.

Throughout the film, Tammy’s character is brought up as this “perfect” embodiment of what a woman should be and she even says “I’m not perfect. I’m just as terrible as everyone else.” But we never see a character flaw, we don’t see her failings as a human being. If getting an abortion or leaving someone who is hurting you are considered shortcomings, then MacLachlan’s got a bigger problem than just a slow-paced script. 

By A Little Prayer’s end, we finally get the emotional climax we’ve been searching for the whole movie. But like a cheating husband begging for forgiveness, it’s too little, too late.

'A Little Prayer'
A D.C area native, Cortland has been interested in media since birth. Taking film classes in high school and watching the classics with family instilled a love of film in Cortland’s formative years. Before graduating with a degree in English and minoring in Film Study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Cortland ran the college’s radio station, where she frequently reviewed films on air. She then wrote for another D.C area publication before landing at Punch Drunk Critics. Aside from writing and interviewing, she enjoys podcasts, knitting, and talking about representation in media.
sundance-review-a-little-prayerAngus MacLachlan struggles to find importance in his humble and contained family drama.