Novitiate Review - Performance Driven Indie Delivers

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Novitiate, from Sony Pictures Classics, presents an insider's view behind the scared walls of the nunnery as it follows a group of young women who believe they have been called to the live a life of sacrifice in service for God.

Written and directed by Maggie Betts, Novitiate stars Melissa Leo, Dennis O'Hare, Dianna Agron, and Margaret Qualley and also stars, Lisa Stewart Seals, Alyssa Brindley, Chelsea Lopez, Liana Liberato, Elin ePowell, Morgan Saylor, Rebecca Dayan, Hannah Renee Jackson, Marco St. John, Julianne Nicholson, Eliza Mason, Bill Shick, Danny Vinson, Chris Zylka, Angela Fox, Neva Howell, Sasha Mason, Peggy Walton-Walker, Ashley Bell, Rosemary Brown, Gabe Beutel-Gunn, Maddie Hasson, and Marshall Chapman.

Novitiate begins at the home of Nora and Chuck Harris, played by Julianne Nicholson and Chris Zylka, where Nora, is sitting down to dinner with her seven year old daughter Kathleen, played by Eliza Mason, when Chuck finally comes home. The two begin to argue again, as Kathleen presses her hands over her ears, the fighting escalates and Chuck storms out.


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The next scene the two, Nora, now a single mother, and Kathleen are on their way to church hoping to come out with some hope, comfort or something. Kathleen still young enough to question religion found herself suddenly interested in the faith.

The next scene has the nuns from the local school visiting Nora and asking if Kathleen would like to attend the new school they have opened. And when she explained as a single mother, she didn't have the finances to attend they offered her a full scholarship.

Suddenly Kathleen is feeling draw to find out more about Christ and feeling a pull, a tug, in her heart to dedicate her life to service and as she was raised in the Catholic Church, the nunnery was the only path she felt she needed to follow.

The next step for her was to follow through and explain to those around her the decision to serve the church. For the hopefuls, the nunnery is a grueling training period, where they live a modest life,  are learning discipline, and self-denial.

Sister Mary Grace, played by Dianna Argon, a young, beautiful and relatable figure head for the girls in training, the novitiate, she guides them and teaches them the ropes essentially until her heart, her passion, is faced with a crossroads.

We also meet the Reverend Mother played by Melissa Leo, who like any organizational director is faced with the tide of change, and the Catholic Church is undergoing what was called the New Vatican, which essentially demoted the position of the nuns from the hierarchy of Brides of Christ, which held them especially in the dark times of doubt, to common without distinction or designation.

Her disdain with the changes were difficult to manage and her characters becomes increasingly unable to control her emotions and for the novitiate, who trembled in her presence anyway, she became a dreaded interaction.

Her methodologies where those of "old school" and are mentioned when the Archbishop McCarthy, played by Michael O'Hare, pays her a visit. She presents a beaded cat-o-nine tails, for the women to volunteer to use as common punishment when they have "sinned." The egregious violation can be as simple as talking during the Grand Silence or harboring feelings which is draw out in a group setting, where the women are kneeling and forced to enter a circle and cleanse their soul.


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Novitiate delivers a powerful statement on the heart of these women who give their lives to sacrifice, freely, and believe that Christ is all they need or desire. The performances were sharp, poignant and believable.

Maggie Betts, who both wrote and directed the film, wrote a script that brought action that can, from a Christian interpretation, can be seen as actions of searching of seeking and actually receiving a response from God.

Melissa Leo delivers an Oscar worthy performance as the Reverend Mother who is lost, reeling from revelations that after 40 years of service or marriage, He would leave her alone to handle these charges which reduce her from wife to ordinary. She delivered an honest, heartbreaking, performance.

Margaret Qualley, who went from devoted and "in love" with Christ to questioning whether her calling was actually as a nun, delivered a powerhouse portrayal.  

The entire cast of women, which is so rare to find a cast of strong, talented females, who handled the challenges of deep devotion and a love of Christ and hit the right the right notes. They were all impressive.

With a cast of such talent, I almost don't want to bring attention to one or the other and as the film has very few moments of lightheartedness and I do want to mention Morgan Saylor, who plays Sister Evelyn, delivers a funny, a laugh out loud moment as she is trying to find in her soul something to confess. It is very funny.

The film is set in the 1960's and the New Vatican did actually happen which changed the church. The changes, which eventually lead to more than 90,000 nuns leaving the church, was a fiscally sound attempt to modernize the church and reach more of the world wide audience who claimed the Catholic church as their religious beliefs.

Novitiate powers through the 123minutes without missing a beat, the character driven performances, hold the attention and if you are looking for some solid and striking portrayal from inside the secret society of nunnery than Novitiate is a solid bet.

Novitiate doesn't disappoint.