When my good friend Nicole was beta-reading my book, she recommended Sister Act as a pro-single movie: no romantic subplot, and the romantic interest was a married gangster and a murderer.
I had seen Sister Act at the old United Artists Theaters at Spring Valley Marketplace with my parents the summer before 9th grade. The film’s big appeal was the nuns singing Motown songs, which I enjoyed. But upon rewatching it, everything in this film screams pro-single.
Whoopi Goldberg (who wrote the aptly titled If Someone Says You Complete Me, Run!), stars as Delores, a Reno lounge singer who performs nightly to indifferent audiences. She’s the mistress of Vince, a gangster who, as a gift, gives her his wife’s fur coat (with said wife’s name on it). What a winner, eh?
When she goes to break it up, he witnesses him murdering a snitch, and as a result, has to go into Witness Protection. Because Vince is connected everywhere and could have her murdered so easily, the police officer in charge of her puts her in “the last place anyone would ever think to look for you.” A convent.
Delores’s flashy lounge singer persona clashes with the rigid stylings of the Reverend Mother (Maggie Smith) but she makes friends among the other nuns. To keep her busy, Reverend Mother puts her in the choir, which sounds, well, bad. Her musical prowess puts her in the position of becoming in the choir’s director, and soon, the nuns are lighting up the church with renditions of songs like Mary Wells’s “My Guy” (which they change to “My God”) and Peggy March’s “I Will Follow Him.” And their struggling parish thrives. Of course, there’s the subplot involving Vince coming after her and the nuns coming to her rescue.
Two key features:
1)No romantic subplot – The romantic interest is a scumbag from the very beginning to the end. 2)No romantic subplot – We might expect some chemistry between Delores and Eddie, the detective assigned to protect her, as played by Bill Nunn (I’ll always know him as Radio Raheem from Do The Right Thing). There is, but it’s more of a love/hate, “You’re a pain in my ass, Delores, but you’re okay anyway” kind of vibe between the two. A lesser film would hook them up. This one’s more concerned with reviving the choir and the church. And, in the end, Delores is happily single and starts to thrive as a single.
And this leads us to the sequel, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Before I start, I’ll say there was no reason for movie to exist, other than to build on the popularity of the first film and make some already rich people even richer. But it’s pro-single, so I’ll include it. Delores has upgraded from Reno lounge singer to Vegas headliner, name in lights included. Her friends from the old parish are now teaching at Dolores’s alma mater, which is about to close. They want Dolores come to give her Vegas-style zaaz to their unruly, apathetic student body.
So Dolores dons the habit again and, after some bumps, inspires her music class to become a state title-winning choir. While the storytelling is flat, the characterizations are inconsistent, and the dialogue is awful, but the music is still lively, and…no romantic subplot. We might expect Dolores to hook up with one of the priests, but not even Hollywood would dare take a person of God away from their holy calling to pursue a romance. I’m glad they have their limits. Here, it’s all about inspiring the kids. It’s formulaic, but for the 1990s, its message was truly rebellious. So I approve.