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Writer/director Angus MacLachlan works through some absorbing questions surrounding the true meaning of family in A Little Prayer, which made its premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. The film is a low-profile melodrama that quietly dips into its atmosphere, showing both the strength and the downfall of family.

'A Little Prayer' movie review 2.5 star rating

‘A Little Prayer’ depicts a family diving into crisis

'A Little Prayer' Anna Camp as Patti, David Strathairn as Bill, Billie Roy as Hadley, Celia Weston as Venida, and Jane Levy as Tammy holding boxes, baskets, and pillows from a car and walking on the dirt path
L-R: Anna Camp as Patti, David Strathairn as Bill, Billie Roy as Hadley, Celia Weston as Venida, and Jane Levy as Tammy | Courtesy of Sundance Institute

David’s (Will Pullen) parents, Bill (David Strathairn) and Venida (Celia Weston), allow him and his wife, Tammy (Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist‘s Jane Levy), to move into their quiet home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. David and Bill have always been rather close, but they become even more involved in each other’s lives after they start working together. Bill gets a sneaking suspicion that his son is starting to stray in his marriage at the expense of his daughter-in-law’s feelings.

Bill throws himself into David and Tammy’s relationship turmoil. He tries to understand his son’s impulsive behavior, but he also wants to protect his daughter-in-law from harm. Bill is forced to confront David’s concerning behavior, which only continues to erode. His son isn’t quite the same young boy that he thought he raised.

The power of meaning in a family

MacLachlan introduces even more family drama in A Little Prayer when Bill and Venida’s daughter, Patti (Pitch Perfect‘s Anna Camp), shows up with her young daughter, Hadley (Billie Roy). She finds solace in moving back in with her parents after leaving her troubled husband. Bill and Venida’s home represents a safe space away from the harshness of the outside world. However, tensions of their own unfold, as the personal lines between them all blur to reveal a sobering look at their realities.

Tammy is often the quiet observer of the emerging drama, doing her part to help around the house. She has her own insecurities and hardships looming under the surface, but she tries to keep them hidden from the family. Tammy’s closest relationship in the family is with Bill, with whom she frequently shares genuine conversations.

A Little Prayer is all about the meaning of family. Bill understands the importance of being there for the ones he loves, but his close physical proximity forces him to confront the personal demons of those he thought he knew so well. Each character has a contrasting definition of family, changing the way that they interact with one another.

‘A Little Prayer’ is a soapy melodrama


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A Little Prayer isn’t all drama, as MacLachlan’s screenplay slowly develops moments of light comedy throughout, but they’re handled similarly for much of the story. It’s a rather subdued film that invests the majority of its emotional energy into the ending, while the humor is very lightly sprinkled across character interactions.

The performances are the film’s greatest strength. Levy is a notable standout, making Tammy feel fully fleshed out, while really tugging on the heartstrings in the film’s final moments. Strathairn is also quite good, utilizing facial expressions to relay everything that the character hurts too much to admit.

A Little Prayer is tenderhearted in specks, but its melodrama degrades into a made-for-TV soap opera. MacLachlan has compelling commentary about the shifting definition of family, but the execution doesn’t quite hit the mark.