March 20, 2023
A little Prayer (2023)

Sundance Film Festival 2023 Review – A Little Prayer (2023)


It’s a peaceful, residential road. Lots of trees, grass and well-tended family homes. The quiet is disturbed some mornings by the voice of a woman singing spirituals. Nobody knows who she is but it’s become part of the rhythm of the neighbourhood, a place where you’d expect little to happen. But underneath that gentle, quiet façade is something more dramatic and intense.

Writer/director Angus MacLachlan looks behind one of the front doors in A Little Prayer. Bill (David Strathairn) and Venida (Celia Weston) live in the big house at the end of the road, with their son David (Will Pullen) and his wife Tammy (Jane Levy) in the house next door. Bill and David work together at the family company and have always been close – they’re also both ex-military – but when the father suspects his son is having an affair he’s compelled to intervene. He finds himself in the middle of a relationship storm, one where he’s trying to protect both his son and daughter-in-law and come to terms with the limits of his own influence as a parent.

Initially we watch a family routine that’s comfortably steady. Tammy does most of the cooking, prepares lunch bags for Bill and David and has a part time job of her own. Her in-laws are clearly fond of her and her marriage seems loving. The only jarring note is Patti (Anna Camp) and their grandchild Hadley (Billie Roy), fleeing their turbulent home life – not for the first time, it emerges. Their disruptive presence, one that spotlights the difference between Patti and Tammy, is dwelt on for perhaps too long, but it also marks the start of a series of revelations that overturn the family dynamics. Not only is David having an affair, he still suffers from the after effects of military service, something that Bill finds difficult to cope with. And then he faces an abortion dilemma at the heart of his family. His deeply rooted values are all being challenged en masse.

It’s a slow-burning story, one with emotions coming to the surface but very few raised voices. The ensemble cast is uniformly strong, with Strathairn particularly good as his Bill struggles to retain his dignity in the face of actions and attitudes he simply can’t understand. And Levy is impressive as the wife David takes for granted but who has a surprising past, revealed in a tender scene towards the end. Despite all the issues packed into its 90 minutes, the film still finds room for some gentle humour, the sort that grows from a shared lifetime and all the understanding that goes with it. It all makes for a thoughtful, satisfying watch. Worryingly, given that small, character driven indies are having a difficult time bringing in the audiences, its chances of landing distribution are open to question. We can only hope. Perhaps a little prayer might help.



Drama | Sundance Film Festival, premiered on 24 January 2023 | Dir. Angus MacLachlan | David Strathairn, Jane Levy, Will Pullen, Celia Weston, Anna Camp, Billie Roy.