Death has a way of exposing holes within even the tightest of families. It only takes the tragic removal of one peg to highlight how fragile the bonds were to begin with. The way in which death ultimately restructures the family dynamics is at the core of William J. Stribling feature length debut, Lies I Told My Little Sister.
Cory Webber (Lucy Walters) is a globetrotting nature photographer who reluctantly agrees to go on a family vacation to Cape Cod. Organized by her younger sister Jane (Michelle Petterson), the trip, which includes their mother and Jane’s husband and son, is meant to reignite some of the old family traditions. Although Jane may not admit it, Cory knows deep down that Jane’s newfound interest in family gathering has more to do with their sister Sarah’s (Alicia Minshew) death more than anything else. Truth be told, no one in the family, especially Cory, has really come to terms with her passing.
The glue that seemingly held them all together, Sarah’s absence has impacted the family in unexpected ways. Cory, who used to torment her little sister, struggles to understand Jane’s paranoia and overprotective parenting. Jane is put off by Cory’s selfishness and the fact that she was not around when the family needed her most. Even their mother Laura (Ellen Foley) is battling her own internal guilt about pursing her artistic passion while Sarah carried the burden of raising her siblings.
Lies I Told My Little Sister hits a lot of the beats one would expect from this type of film. There is Cory drowning her pain with alcohol, the dilemma of taking a dream job or staying with family, and even the re-emergence of an old flame (John Behlmann). However, even these moments cannot take away from the overall effectiveness of the film. There is an emotional honesty that really transcends the conventional plotting.
The conflict between Cory and her family is one that we can all identify with. Though the film is told from a female perspective, the themes are universally. Family is one of the few things in life that drive us crazy, but we cannot stand to live without. The fact that Cory and her clan are dealing with grief in their own unique ways only further complicates matters. Fortunately for Stribling, the strong performances from his cast keep the various conflicts grounded in reality. Lucy Walters in particular does a wonderful job in the lead role. Her vulnerability feels natural, and she nicely hits all the right emotional notes.
Despite some of its conventional plot devices, Lies I Told My Little Sister is a film that offers nice look at the emotions that bind families together. The characters are relatable without having to sacrifice their complexities. As is often the case, it takes tragedy to remind us all how important it is for families to live in the now.
Tonight, 3 PM, The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema