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SXSW: "Sister Aimee" and an actress to watch

Abe Fried-Tanzer reporting from SXSW

It’s fitting that the last film I got to see at SXSW is actually one I missed at the Sundance Film Festival, brought to Austin as part of the “Festival Favorites” section which also included buzzy titles like Apollo 11 and Little Monsters. Billed as a comedy, drama, musical, romance, and western, Sister Aimee is certainly ambitious. It's also one of the most intriguing films currently on the festival circuit. In its opening title card, Sister Aimee bills its story as five and a half percent truth; the rest: imagination...

For those unfamiliar with Aimee Semple McPherson, a real-life evangelist in the 1920s, producers are quick with a clarification. The only part of this film that did indeed happen was that the famed preacher known for theatrical performances and showy antics disappeared for five weeks in 1926. She returned with a highly dubious story about having been kidnapped. 

This film fills in that time with an egotistical married journalist, Kenny (Michael Mosley), who convinces Aimee (Anna Margaret Hollyman) to fake her death and run away with him to Mexico. They hire a guide for their trip, Rey (Andrea Suarez Paz), who isn’t big on conversation but gradually connects with Aimee, who she doesn’t recognize despite her face being plastered on the front page of every newspaper. Initially, Aimee delights in pretending to be Kenny’s wife and assuming a new identity, but she quickly tires of his self-obsession and the monotony of life on the run, especially since their run is much more of a crawl.

An actress to watch out for: Anna Margaret Hollyman

In just her first few minutes onscreen, Hollyman reveals incredible screen presence and the ability to carry a whole picture.  She knows exactly how to play each moment to maximum effect, whether it’s a healing session onstage or distracting a suspicious police officer with a fabricated story told just right. Detectives investigating her whereabouts interview numerous individuals close to her, who add to the legend and mystery of her character, and Hollyman only feeds into that more with an amazing ability to go from rolling her eyes at the lackluster state of her life to springing into performative action like it’s her Broadway debut in an instant. This impressively costumed and decorated tall tale from debut feature directors Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann doesn’t pretend to tell the real story of its title character, but it has found a fabulous lead actress whose career should be closely watched.

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Reader Comments (4)

My mother sang in her choir when she was passing through our home state.

March 17, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

I'm very surprised that you don't mention the TV movie "The Disappearance of Aimee" (1976), starring none other than Faye Dunaway and Bette Davis The film deals with exactly the same period in the life of Aimee. Here in Argentina it received a theatrical release,

March 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

If you're intrigued by Hollyman, please see "White Reindeer". It is a sturdy little black comedy and she is truly amazing in it.

March 17, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterflatbeat

Anna Margaret Hollyman is incredible in WHITE REINDEER too

March 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTaylor

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