All My Puny Sorrows, a family wracked by depression

Sarah Gadon and Alison Pill in All My Puny Sorrows

All My Puny Sorrows is a sad tale of depression and suicide. A Mennonite family struggles through huge losses that they are unable to stop.

All My Puny Sorrows is based on a novel by Miriam Toews. It was written and directed by Michael McGowan. The dialog is lyrical, literary – like reading a literary novel. The characters know and frequently quote long passages by poets and writers. The title of the film is from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

When the film opens we watch the father of this family (Donal Logue) step directly in front of a train.

We meet his daughter Yoli (Alison Pill) who is dealing with a divorce and a teenager (Amybeth McNulty) as she struggles to write a new novel. She’s grieving for her father and is blocked as writer.

Yoli’s sister, Elf (Sarah Gadon), is a highly regarded concert pianist. We see her performing. Her face is a drawn and wooden mask of depression.

All My Puny Sorrows movie poster

Soon Yoli receives a call from her mother (Mare Winningham) that Elf has tried to kill herself. Yoli goes to her sister’s hospital room. The sisters are together for several important scenes. Yoli disagrees with the psychiatrist when he releases Elf from the hospital with medications and her promise to do better.

The results are tragic.

My feelings after watching the film were that these depressed people were loved, cared for, and acclaimed. But none of it, not pharmaceuticals, not talk therapy, not love, could penetrate the depression ruling their brains.

For all the guilt and pain remaining family members may have felt, they did everything possible and it wasn’t effective. To me, the message was, it wasn’t their fault. The family matriarch, played beautifully by Mare Winningham, was practical and stoic. She wanted everyone to just get on with living. It wasn’t easy to do.

This film is steeped in sadness and literary references. It isn’t for everyone. It was delicately told. The two principle characters played by Alison Pill and Sarah Gadon were excellent.

Take a look at the trailer on YouTube. The film is streaming on Hulu.

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