Sundance movie review: 'A Little Prayer' is a little slight and mild

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From left, Anna Camp, David Strathairn, Billie Roy, Celia Weston and Jane Levy star in “A Little Prayer.” Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Jan. 25 (UPI) — A Little Prayer, which premiered Monday at the Sundance Film Festival, is a very mild movie. It features strong performances and a few powerful scenes, but overall feels too uneventful.

Tammy (Jane Levy) and David (Will Pullen) live with David’s parents, Bill (David Strathairn) and Venida (Celia Weston). When Bill suspects David is having an affair with co-worker Narcedalia (Dascha Polanco), he tries to find out and prevent David from ruining his marriage.

A Little Prayer captures how someone like Bill could confirm his suspicion in a social circle where everyone just makes small talk. Or, everyone has their own judgments so Bill has to piece together what may actually be happening by reading between the lines.

David keeps working late even though Bill, his boss, advises him not to. David is also a veteran, and post-traumatic stress is alluded to but never confirmed.

The film builds to dicey issues and confrontations. Bill learns some painful things about his son.

Those only come after a lot of meandering in banal daily life. At one point, Bill and Venida’s daughter Patti (Anna Camp) shows up with her kids and that doesn’t even add events to the plot.

Strathairn definitely conveys a good father struggling with a son not living up to his ideals. Bill remains conflicted about how involved he should get, and wavers even when he’s confronting people.

Weston too plays Venida as a mother concerned for her daughter-in-law, but she knows even less about the situation at work. Levy plays Tammy as an optimist but not one who’s blindly naive.

These are strong characters. So it is frustrating that most of the film’s brief 91-minute runtime is not spent seeing them engaged in conflict.

A neighbor’s early morning hymn singing opens the film as the camera floats through the suburban street. Many characters complain about being awoken too early, but even that isn’t a conflict that drives the film. They just live with it.

A Little Prayer could be worthwhile for the performances, but be prepared for a very slow burn. For most, there won’t be enough meat to merit watching.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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