Overall Grade: B+
Sister Act was a surprise comedy hit in 1992 and one of my favorite VHS films as a young kid; I watching and re-watched those musical numbers over and over. It's an extremely easy to watch comedy featuring memorable musical numbers and a career best performance from Whoopi Goldberg. For anyone growing up at the time of this review in 2023 it might be hard to think about Whoopi helming a comedy musical since she has become more of a political figure on The View in her later years. In 1992 however, Whoopi was at the height of her Hollywood powers coming off a thriving stand-up comedy routine and an Oscar winning performance in Ghost two years earlier. I think Sister Act represents the peak of her film career, headlining a real comedy blockbuster, with an iconic comedic performance.
In Sister Act, Whoopi plays a Reno singer named Deloris doing montages of R&B and Motown songs. Life’s not going well as her singing act gets little notice from the Casino patrons and her gangster boyfriend Vince (Harvey Keitel) won’t leave his wife. To make things worse, Deloris accidentally witnesses said boyfriend execute someone and she is forced to run to the cops. The cops, wanting to make a slam-dunk case against a big gangster, convince Deloris to hide out in the last place Vince would look for her, a San Francisco convent as a nun. The convent is run by the Mother Superior, which is my first experience with the great actress Maggie Smith and her ability to play a cold and stiff character that’s still able to garner great empathy and show intelligence and warmth. This resulting change in life for Deloris, ahem Sister Mary Clarence now, provides lots of opportunities for some fish out of water comedy bits. Whoopi really shines here, bringing her privileged lounge singer attitude to prayer, dinner, convent work, and fellowship with the other sisters. Two other nuns get shining supporting turns here, Kathy Najimy as Sister Mary Patrick and Wendy Makkena as Sister Mary Roberts (who I had a big crush on as a kid). The two nuns welcome Mary Clarence with understanding and patience. Their curiosity and empathy for her differences eventually work to soothe Mary Clarence’s difficulty with her temporary nun life.