Novitiate

Rated 4.0

Great actresses do great things in this stunner from writer-director Margaret Betts. Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) joins a convent in the 1960s, right in time for the major policy changes affecting nuns in the Catholic Church to be made via Vatican II. She’s devoted, seeking to be married to God for eternity, but also seeking to escape a dreary childhood and her troubled mother (Julianne Nicholson). On her way to becoming a nun, Cathleen and her fellow sisters must contend with the fierce Reverend Mother (a scary Melissa Leo, playing one of the year’s best villains). Reverend Mother has a few problems with Vatican II, refusing to adapt some of its more lenient policies, and continuing to practice something more akin to fraternity hazing. Leo is a coiled snake in this movie, and her outbursts are frightening. The film is a testament to a nun’s faith, because a lot of the girls stick around even though the lady in charge is totally insane. While Betts does focus upon the hypocrisy of organized religion, she doesn’t shy away from the potential beauties of religion, either. It’s an interesting balancing act she pulls off. Leo is probably in the running for awards consideration, but Qualley, and especially Nicholson as the confused mom, are equally powerful.