My Skinny Sister (2015)
Dir. Sanna Lenken
Starring: Amy Deasismont, Rebecka Josephson
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Why are most contemporary English-language family films so abysmal? They're either completely inconsequential nonsense aimed squarely at the kids or worse, inconsequential nonsense aimed at kids but full of stupid pop-culture jokes and references to amuse the parents to keep them from falling asleep. Most of them are animated, which almost automatically means the stories are interchangeable and bereft of imagination (save for those I can count on half of one hand). If they're actually about something, like, say an "issue", they slip into that stereotypical format of American-style after school specials. Thankfully, we can usually count on filmmakers across both ponds, usually in non-English-speaking countries, to fill the void.
My Skinny Sister, a first feature written and directed by Sweden's Sanna Lenken, has the distinction of being one of the best family films I've seen in years and as part of the TIFF Kids program at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, it also gains a nice perch for me as one of the better films I've seen in this program (and this includes TIFF's adjunct festival and their year-round Kids programming activities).
This is a really funny and poignant look at two very mismatched sisters who come to discover just how bonded they are - by their similarities and differences. Nothing ever feels sappy or by-rote and though the issue of eating orders has oft been applied to such pictures, this one always has itself grounded in the kind of reality so often lacking in the English-language (especially North American) domain.
Telling the tale of the shy, awkward, pleasantly ample 12-year-old Stella (Rebecka Josephson) and her older, beautiful, potential ice-skating champ sister Katja (Amy Deasismont), we experience an entertaining study in contrasts. Katja is doted over by Mom, Dad and most egregiously to Stella, by the handsome skating coach in the local arena.
Katja, for her part, is obsessive about being a champion and she trains, works out and channels all her energies into being "Number One". Stella's needs are far more down to earth - she's trying to fit her pear-shape into a square hole amongst her peers, but learns that the kids who really count, aren't the "squares" at all, but the way cooler types who accept her for her cute, perky qualities and most of all, her sense of humour and intelligence.
However, poor Stella's attempts to come out of her shell are compounded by a very serious problem. She and she alone has discovered the secret that all is not right with Katja. Her "perfect" sister is afflicted with a serious eating disorder and though she'd like to spill the beans, Stella is sworn to secrecy.
Happily, the very real and underlying dilemma is buttressed by considerable good humour - much of it from Stella. Everything from feeling like she must shave her "moustache" (which she really doesn't have at all) to finding some way to consummate her crush on Katja's coach are just a couple of elements amongst many which will have both kids and adults laughing out loud (and not at her, either).
Much of this is due to Lenken's nicely written screenplay and her superb observational skills as a director. Lenken is no mere camera jockey, but has a fine sense of visual fluidity, a pleasing style and a great eye for capturing the details of the girl's lives. The dramatic beats are handled with the kind of grace and intelligence that keep us watching because we're genuinely and subtly being led by Lenken's assured hand. The performances of the two lead sisters are a marvel (as, frankly, are all the kids). If the adult performers seem a touch stiff, it has less to do with their prowess than the fact that most of us, whether we're kids, adults or adults who've never grown up, are just always going to prefer the onscreen antics (fun and serious) of the kids themselves.
The conflicts are always real here and My Little Sister should be the go-to choice for anyone wanting to expose their kids to the best in family drama. I suspect the movie might play especially well in Canada with its colder climes, skating culture and multicultural makeup as opposed to some of America's more melting pot and decidedly ice-bereft locales, but I suspect that the American midwest, especially in states like Minnesota, North Dakota and others in the northernmost regions will be very open to this film if it's handled with a bit of savvy and elbow grease.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ 3-and-a-half-Stars
My Skinny Sister receives its Canadian Premiere in the TIFF KIDS series during TIFF 2015. For dates, times and tix, visit the TIFF website HERE.