The Weekly Watch: Take Us to Church!
It's a comedy! It's an action flick! It's got singing nuns! It's Sister Act. Plus: 5 more movies worthy of Whoopi.
At Bigger Picture HQ, aka my couch, we had a spirited debate about the wisdom of awarding our first-ever Weekly Watch to a movie musical. But Rachel, some people don’t like musicals! said my editor, aka my husband. To which I say: If you don’t like musicals, we need to talk. And also: I’d argue the movie in question is not a musical-musical anyway, and musical-skeptics will find plenty to enjoy.
Sister Act, which I saw in the theater in 1992 and is now streaming on Disney+, is one of my top five Whoopi Goldberg movies (see ranking below), and a generation-spanning crowd pleaser. It does have a bangin’ Motown soundtrack and was turned into a mediocre Broadway musical. But like Dirty Dancing, which was also directed by Emile Ardolino, you’ll experience it as a top-notch fish-out-of-water story and, in this case, also an action-thriller (more on that in a minute) as Whoopi’s on-the-run Vegas lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier shows a bunch of white nuns, including Kathy Najimy (swoon, always), how to find a long-dormant piece of their souls through soul music. If you haven’t seen it, try it. If you haven’t seen it in a while, you will not regret this rewatch—and not only because we all need to brush up in time for the recently announced Sister Act 3. It’s fast-paced, it’s heartfelt, and Whoopi nails every line. As a bonus, it also features that irresistible-at-any-age comedic device the song spoof—Mary Wells’s ”My Guy,” specifically, becomes “My God,” and you best be believing you won’t ever run into the original again without hearing the latter in your head.
About that action-thriller thing: Sister Act feels like an apt kickoff to The Bigger Picture’s Weekly Watch given that it was the first movie I ever showed my very mature stepdaughter, L.B.…when she was 3. I had watched and loved Sister Act multiple times over the course of my life and couldn’t wait to share it, but I had forgotten how it begins: With Whoopi held up at gunpoint. The scene sets up the whole hiding-in-a-convent plot; it also understandably, and regrettably, freaked out wee L.B. Concerned parents of lower-elementary-grade kids, you have two options: Skip Sister Act for now and go straight to the milder but still pretty great sequel, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, which costars a teenage Lauryn Hill. Or just skip the first 16 minutes—you won’t miss any singing nuns—and start the movie when Whoopi arrives at St. Katherine’s. There’s a little more gun chase-y stuff in the final 20 minutes—and a few bad-guy moments as well as Whoopi sex zingers throughout—but all that is minimal and the ending is a very happy one. On the flip side: The same light violence—Harvey Keitel is in this!—that may scare little ones is a great way to trick older kids into watching a movie in which you’ll get to see Maggie Smith play Mother Superior. Our family recently gave the movie another whirl, and our tough ninth-grade baseball player H.B. was as rapt as our now-10-year-old L.B., who recently assured me she was not scarred by seeing Sister Act in its entirety at a delicate age. Say it with me: Hallelujah!
Goldberg Mine: A mini-ranking of Whoopi’s best ’90s movies—unintentionally in chronological order. (Note: Most of these are NOT for kids! And yes, things are already getting wild here.)
Ghost, 1990 ($3.99 rental on Prime Video, iTunes, et al.): A surprisingly enormous hit with our kids—to the point that we’ll have to go deep on it in a future Weekly Watch (hopefully once it’s available for “free” on one of the big streamers). It was Whoopi’s performance as Oda Mae Brown who put the O in her EGOT.
Sister Act, 1992 (Disney+): You know how we feel about this one: Heavenly!
The Player, 1992 (HBOMax): Not for kids. This Robert Altman Hollywood satire features Whoopi as a wisecracking detective, who maximizes her limited screen time like the legend-in-the-making she was.
Made In America, 1993 ($3.99 rental on Prime, et al.): Not for kids. This one—in which teenage Zora (Nia Long) discovers that she’s the product of her mom (Whoopi)…and a white sperm donor (Ted Danson)!—doesn’t hold up well. However, as a time-capsule for Whoopi’s iconic, secret offscreen romance with Ted, it’s worth a casual watch. (They’ve definitely got chemistry…if not great judgment!) Bonus: You get to see Will Smith in one of his early this-kid-should-be-a-movie-star roles: Tea Cake Walters, Zora’s mile-a-minute boyfriend.
Boys on the Side, 1995 ($3.99 rental on Prime, et al.): Not for kids. What’s not to like about a feminist road trip movie starring Drew Barrymore, Mary-Louise Parker, and Whoopi freakin’ Goldberg? And with a soundtrack featuring Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, The Cranberries, Sarah McLachlan, Annie Lennox, Indigo Girls, and Melissa Etheridge, it’s like Lilith Fair beamed into your living room.
Big Whoops: Two worth skipping altogether.
Corrina, Corrina, 1994: A widowed Ray Liotta hires Whoopi to be his housekeeper and take over all the domestic/wife/mom stuff. They fall in love.
The Associate, 1996: Whoopi masquerades as a white man in order to succeed in business.