While not a traditional musical (though it has been adapted into a stage show), music plays a key role in the film. Another one of my mother’s favorites and my first real introduction to Whoopi Goldberg (I recognized her from this, Lion King, and Star Trek: Next Generation long before I knew she was a comedian). She stars as Deloris van Cartier. Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall, Violet Crawley the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey, Becoming Jane, Hook, and other roles dating back to the fifties) is Mother Superior, Kathy Najimy (Mary from Hocus Pocus) is Sister Mary Patrick, Wendy Makkena (she has popped up in several television shows, including NCIS, where she is deceased Agent Caitlin Todd’s sister) is Sister Mary Robert, Mary Wickes (White Christmas, Music Man) is Sister Mary Lazarus. Harvey Keitel (later Sandusky in both National Treasure movies) is Vince LaRocca and Jim Beaver (Bobby Singer in Supernatural) shows up as Clarkson.
Deloris is shown to be a troublemaker from an early age, but the story truly begins during one of her shows in Reno. She is shown to be involved with a married man and decides to leave him. But she witnesses a murder in her lover’s casino and makes a run for it. The police promise to protect and hide her in the last place Vince would look; a convent. Deloris is not happy about posing as a nun and neither is the Mother Superior, the only other person to know who Deloris is. Along with the black and white habit, Deloris is to adopt the name Sister Mary Clarence. She meets the other sisters, including bubbly Sister Mary Patrick and shy Sister Mary Robert. Mary Clarence wants to mind her own business at the beginning, but she is not used to the life of a nun.
When Mary Clarence sneaks out at night and Sisters Mary Patrick and Mary Robert follow her to meet the people, Mother Superior is displeased. To keep Mary Clarence occupied, she assigns her to the convent choir, which has already performed a very bad version of Hail Holy Queen. Sister Mary Lazarus conducts the choir, but hands the reins over to Mary Clarence when she starts rearranging. She also encourages Sister Mary Robert to come out of her shell. At the next service, the choir performs a polished version of Hail Holy Queen, then segue into a new attitude featuring Sisters Mary Patrick and Mary Robert. Mother Superior is not impressed, but Mary Clarence knows that this kind of music will get people back in church. She gives credit to Mother Superior when the priest congratulates them and gets him to agree to let the sisters out into the community. A revitalization happens; the area is cleaned up and the paint is turned into a mural. Unfortunately, there is a camera crew and the police officer in charge spots Deloris, luckily Vince does not. When Eddie warns Deloris to be more careful, she starts to show her concern for the other nuns; she won’t abandon the choir. She changes the words to My Guy to My God and works it into a nun’s point of view. Afterwards, they receive news that the Pope will visit their convent and has requested a concert. Mother Superior feels they should return to traditional pieces, but she is outvoted in favor of Mary Clarence’s selections.
It looks like Mother Superior and Mary Clarence may both be leaving soon; Mother Superior wants transferred to a convent where she will be of more use, but Mary Clarence urges that she can be a part of what is going on now. Over at the police station, there is a leak, exposing protected witnesses. One of the other detectives figures out where Deloris is and calls Vince. The detective is caught, but not before Vince sends his goons after Deloris. Eddie tries to protect her but she sneaks away and is grabbed. Mary Robert is able to report where the goons are heading and all the sisters band together to rescue Mary Clarence, even after Mother Superior reveals the truth.
Vince’s goons can’t bring themselves to shoot Deloris while she is dressed as a nun and her calm demeanor puts them off. She manages to escape and finds the other nuns in the casino. Vince corners them before they can get out, but still orders his goons to shoot Deloris. Vince is shot instead and he’ll finally be locked up. The choir is able to perform for the Pope with a new arrangement of I Will Follow Him.
A year after Sister Act, they make a sequel, subtitled Back in the Habit. Deloris is now headlining in Vegas and gets a visit from Sisters Mary Robert, Mary Patrick, and Mary Lazarus. They ask for her help again; they are now teaching at St. Francis school and the students need guidance. It’s the return of Mary Clarence and she’ll now be teaching the music class. The teens (including a young Jennifer Love Hewitt) are not interested in a change to their lazy class.
Mary Clarence despairs for a bit, until she overhears that the school will close at the end of the semester and she determines with the other nuns and fathers to go out with a bang. She gives her class a wakeup call that leads Rita to leave. Mary Clarence works her magic and realizes she needs to turn her class into a choir; they’re already interested in music, now she just needs to turn their music into something they can perform. She takes them on a field trip to watch her old choir Rap On Sisters about the issues of the day. The students resist at first, until they overhear the same news and figure to give the choir a chance. We see Rita practice with a friend and Sister Mary Robert overhears her; she encourages Rita to return to choir and has Mary Clarence speak to her.
Turns out that Rita’s mother (Sheryl Lee Ralph; Mamma Colton in the new MacGyver series) disapproves of singing; it is not a stable job and no guarantee of a future. Rita does return to choir after some coaxing and they perform Oh Happy Day for their school. It’s a rocky start, until they build up some confidence and the male soloist hits a high note. This leads to the other sisters entering the choir into a state competition. Mary Clarence talks the principal around, though they’ll have to fundraise and all the students must have parental consent. Mary Clarence can handle the community; she sings Get Up Off-a That Thing and Dancing in the Street. Rita’s mother refuses to let Rita sing; Rita forges her mother’s signature and joins the trip anyway, following advice from Mary Clarence: if all you want to do when you wake up is sing, you’re a singer.
Trouble is brewing, the school administrator has figured out Deloris’s secret and takes the fathers to the competition to take the students out. They’re nervous about the competition, especially when they see another more professional choir sing Joyful, Joyful; their intended song. But Mary Clarence speaks to them and cheer up when they see their principal. He and the other fathers lock the administrator in a closet so their choir has a chance. Rita’s mother finds her daughter’s letter and comes to the competition, making Rita freeze. She snaps out of it and performs her solo and the students are allowed to take off their robes so they’ll be comfortable. They perform an updated version of Joyful, Joyful; high energy and mixing in styles they are familiar with. When the winners are announced, the fancy choir wins second. And St. Francis wins! The school board was also in attendance and agree to keep the school open. Similar to what happened last movie, Mother Superior gives the credit to the administrator and then suggests he’s reassigned to another district that needs him more. Rita’s mother tells her daughter how proud she is. The students confront Deloris after the show about her being a Vegas showgirl. She corrects them; “I have not now nor ever been a Las Vegas showgirl. I am a headliner.” Credits roll over the cast singing Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.
I don’t watch the movies as often anymore; if I do, it’s more for nostalgic reasons. Though I still like the music and a women’s choir should totally do the arrangements from the first movie. They involve relatable situations, though the nun bring joy; who wouldn’t want to be friends with Sister Mary Patrick and Sister Mary Robert?
Up Next: Mamma Mia