That McGowan admires the source material and wants to do it justice is clear, and that he’s resisted the temptation to sand down its sharpest edges speaks to a desire to meet his troubled characters where they are. But his movie ends up just another reminder that paying tribute to a novel isn’t the same as breathing it into life.
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It is by no means a misfire and features a trio of tremendous performances from Pill, Gadon, and Mare Winningham. But given the source material and the ingredients, Sorrows certainly qualifies as a disappointment.
One can’t help coming away with the feeling that if the intelligence and originality of All My Puny Sorrows matched its earnestness, they could’ve really had something here.
An icy Sarah Gadon can’t plumb it, offering a quietly mannered performance where a beautifully furrowed brow and occasional tear suggest the character cares more about looking elegant than dying. Thankfully, in the warmer roles of Yoli and her resilient Mennonite mother, Alison Pill and Mare Winningham do find the big broken heart at the core of this story.
While its performances are lovely and tender, with the execution somewhat messy in its handling of themes, All My Puny Sorrows doesn’t dig past the surface enough to make a strong enough case for itself.