Reviewed By - Alex Ledebuhr
The first Sister Act succeeded on the combined humor of Whoopi Goldberg’s (Ghost, The Color Purple) fish out of water comedy and the villain turned ally of Maggie Smith’s (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) deftly named Mother Superior. The first film ended on a high note with Sister Mary Clarence, AKA Deloris Van Cartier (Whoopi Goldberg’s character), surviving her killer mobster ex-boyfriend, bringing St. Paul’s Catholic Church back to prominence, and successfully repairing the church’s defunct choir. During the credits it is revealed that Deloris becomes a successful Vegas performer and everyone lives happily ever after.
Back in the Habit picks up soon after Deloris becomes a successful Las Vegas headliner. Sisters Mary Patrick, played by Kathy Najimy (King of the Hill, Hocus Pocus), Mary Lazarus, played by Mary Wickes (White Christmas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and Mary Robert, played by Wendy Makkena (State of Play, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), travel to Las Vegas to seek out Deloris’s help. The local school which the nuns teach at in San Francisco, St. Francis Academy, is in dire straits; without a miracle the school is going to close. Mother Superior believes that Dolores could help reform the inner-city school’s rowdy music class… by reviving her former guise as Sister Mary Clarence.
Sister Mary Clarence underestimates the disrespectful class filled with loud, raucous high schoolers who have no intention of learning. Led by Rita Watson, played by multi Grammy award winning singer Lauryn Hill (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, The Fugees’ The Score), the class does their best to undermine Sister Mary Clarence. While Sister Mary Clarence squares off against the unruly class the suspicious school board, led by Mr. Crisp, played by James Coburn (The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven), suspect “Sister Mary Clarence” isn’t who she purports to be. Will Sister Mary Clarence be able to tame the wild class? Will the school board find out Sister Mary Clarence’s secret identity?
The brilliance of Sister Act 2 is the simplicity of the story. It’s a classic teacher vs. student story, filled with entertaining and well-choreographed musical segments. Both teacher and class eventually learn something new about one another, ultimately bringing them together. Unbelievably, the film is directed by classic action star Bill Duke (Predator, Commando), who has 60 other directing credits! Despite the film having a low metascore on IMDb, it is a classic 90’s film, which are without a doubt formulaic in the way they are written, directed, shot, and edited. The thing is… the formula works. It is a great example of 90’s humor and culture as well as having a heartwarming story of coming together to becomes something greater.
Whoopi Goldberg does a fantastic job of slowly breaking through to the stubborn students. Conversely, she also learns to open her heart to hard cases like Rita. Like the first film, she transforms a ragtag group of off-key, self-conscious kids into a confident, unified choir. Her character is based, in part, on a real nun, Mother Dolores Hart, and there is also contention that the character was based on Delois Blakely, who sued Disney and Sony Pictures. While it is a stretch, I believe the film is a great demonstration of a teacher going up against the odds to break through and help the proverbial unruly, disobedient classroom. The film’s musical numbers add heart, soul, and tons of emotion as the students slowly begin to believe in themselves and climatically compete in the All-State Choir Championship.