Set in the early 1960's, a pivotal time of reform in the Catholic church, NOVITIATE is a fascinating story of one young girls experience on the path to becoming a nun.
Margaret Qualley (The Good Guys) is exceptional as Kathleen, a shy, quiet young woman who's grown up watching her parents battle and her mother struggle.
While her mom Norah, well played by Julianne Nicholson (I, Tonya, August Osage County) scoffs at religion, Kathleen finds a quiet comfort in the concept, committing to the six month program to become a nun.
The mother superior of the convent is a force of nature. Committed to the strict old rules of the church, she is a firm disciplinarian and intolerant of any modern intrusion into tradition.
Perfectly played by Melissa Leo (The Fighter, The Big Short) she finds herself vehemently opposed to the new Pope's eye for reform and his Vatican II doctrine. Hiding it from the sisters and furious with its contents, she finds herself in face-to-face combat with Archbishop McCarthy (Denis O'Hare of "This is Us", "American Horror Story") who tells her in no uncertain terms to accept the new church guidelines or take a walk.
Writer/Director Maggie Betts structures the film really well, making the contents of the Vatican II directive a mystery and key plot point that drives the narrative.
Kathleen's journey is difficult and interesting. Depending on your view of religion you will either find her quest inspirational or absurd, but it doesn't make her questions and emotions any less powerful.
Watching these young women virtually imprisoned behind the walls of the church, dealing with emerging teenage emotions and sexuality while questioning their faith is sad, challenging and seems so out of place in modern society.
Dianna Argon (Glee) is excellent as a young nun who thinks the church should seek reforms to be more inclusive and Eline Powell (Game of Thrones) is interesting as a self righteous young candidate with plenty to learn.
Well cast, well acted and interesting, NOVITIATE is a quiet, introspective look at the stifling bonds of tradition facing the explosive cultural change of the mid 1960's. Watching that conflict with the perspective of the world today, it's an interesting view into a little seen world.
Qualley and Leo are both excellent throughout. Novitiate gets a B.