This Iconic Whoopi Goldberg Film Scored 19% on Rotten Tomatoes & I'm Appalled
Whenever I hear someone speak badly about Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (which, thankfully, isn't that often), it's like hearing someone say that they hate free food or cold drinks on a hot summer day. It makes absolutely no sense to me, because who doesn't love this classic, with its colorful cast and show-stopping performances? The movie may not have been a major commercial success like its predecessor, Sister Act. But this cult classic clearly had a huge impact on audiences, and I'm sure most fans would agree that it's one of the best '90s movies ever made. Period.
So you could imagine my dismay when I recently discovered that Sister Act 2 currently holds a measly 19 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes (worse yet, it used to be even lower at one point). I find it so shocking that most critics weren't impressed with this beloved sequel, given that it's much more diverse and equally as charming as the first film. But apparently, critics totally missed what makes this film so powerful.
For those who haven't seen the sequel, Sister Act 2 takes place after the events of Sister Act, and Deloris Van Cartier (Whoopi Goldberg) is now a star performer in Las Vegas. However, when she reunites with her pals from Saint Katherine's Convent, she reluctantly agrees to help them save a struggling school by posing as Sister Mary Clarence and teaching music to teenage students. Can she turn her unruly group into a great choir? And will this be enough?
Since I couldn't quite fathom why anyone would dislike this movie, I decided to check out some of the most critical reviews listed on Rotten Tomatoes. And now, having read a few of them, I can confidently say that they are all 100 percent wrong.
Let's start with one of the most common complaints I've seen: that Sister Act 2 is unoriginal and not as fun as the first film. Former critic Kenneth Turan claimed that there is a "minimal amount of creativity" in the film, and Brian Lowry wrote in Variety that the follow-up is "too formulaic," adding that it "lacks the charm and buoyancy that made the first [Sister] Act a mass-appeal hit."
Now, to be fair, the plot does bear some similarity to the first film, but what makes it so brilliant is that it doesn't make the mistake of turning the sequel into a carbon copy of part one. It offers similar themes and gives us the same Sister Mary (who can still work a crowd like it's nobody's business), but with this film comes a little more flavor, more diversity and a whole new setting. We meet Sister Mary's incredibly talented group of outspoken students, who only add to the depth and overall appeal of this movie (see: "His Eye is on the Sparrow"). And not only that, but we also get to see how the rest of Mary's nun friends adjust to this new atmosphere.
Some critics also weren't too keen on seeing the movie focus less on humor and more on important life lessons that resonate with younger audiences, which I find very surprising. Through Rita's backstory, for example, we learn about the importance of following our heart. And through the rest of her young peers, we see the importance of respect, hard work and having self-confidence. We don't get as many laugh-out-loud scenes in these scenarios, but they certainly don't lack in the charm department. From the choir's lively rendition of "Oh Happy Day" (man, that high note!) to the joy on Lauryn Hill's face when her character sings "Joyful, Joyful," I'd say that Sister Act 2 delivered in terms of recapturing the positive, lighthearted tone of the first film.
TBH, I could go on (and on) passionately refuting every negative claim that's out there, but in reality, it all boils down to the fact that critics just didn't connect with the film like most fans did, which is quite unfortunate. According to Bill Duke, who directed the sequel, this may have been due to the lack of diversity among critics at the time.
He told The Undefeated, "The reviewers at that time could not really be linked to our communities or the message. As you know, the faces of the reviewers were very different than the viewers. So I was surprised, but not shocked, because they didn’t get us at the time. They didn’t get the message and did not relate on an emotional level."
To be quite frank, he raises a valid point. I can't help but wonder about how these factors have affected other movie ratings at that time. Still, regardless of where these critics stand, one simple fact remains: Sister Act 2 is (and will always be) iconic.
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