Reverend Mother: Girl groups? Boogie woogie on the piano? What were you thinking?Two films that star Whoopi Goldberg as Deloris Van Cartier, a Reno lounge singer who pretends to be a nun (for reasons specific to each movie) and introduces excitement into the formerly-solemn local church music.The first Sister Act, released in 1992, Deloris witnesses her Mafioso boyfriend commit a murder. She enters Witness Protection and is forcibly inducted into an abbey as "Sister Mary Clarence". The only other person at the abbey who knows her true identity is the Mother Superior. Deloris has to follow the vows of poverty, obedience, hard work, chastity, and getting up at 5 AM. Eventually, she becomes the leader of the abbey choir, and she decides to make some improvements by combining spirituals and R&B, and the lively new music brings newcomers into the church. However, her newfound visibility does no favors for why she entered the abbey in the first place...Hilarity Ensues. With a tambourine.One of the most popular comedies of The '90s, and up there with Ghost as one of Whoopi Goldberg's most famous roles, with a cast of beloved character actors and a magnificently long-suffering Maggie Smith as the Mother Superior. The film also drew praise from both Catholics and actual nuns, as the film portrays Catholicism in general and nuns in particular as warm, welcoming, and human (as opposed to some of the other popular portrayals). The biggest draw is probably the music itself, which reinterprets such classics as "My Guy" into a religious format. In 2006, the movie was made into a stage musical, with songs by Alan Menken.A sequel followed in 1993: Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Deloris takes her story to Las Vegas and her show becomes a hit. One night, her old friends from the convent pay her a visit, and they tell her that the Catholic school where they've been teaching (which happens to be Deloris' own alma mater) is slowly going under. Deloris agrees to return as Sister Mary Clarence and teach the music class to a large group of very disinterested teenagers (led by a young Lauryn Hill). After a series of pranks being pulled on her, she strikes back in her own way and humbles the kids so that she can work with them. She decides to form the kids into a choir, singing the same sort of music from the previous film and entering a choir competition in hopes to convince the archdiocese that the school is worth funding.
Sister Mary Clarence: I was thinking more like Vegas, you know? Get some butts in the seats.
Sister Mary Clarence: I was thinking more like Vegas, you know? Get some butts in the seats.
The first film provides examples of:
- Answer Cut: This is how the convent is revealed to be the last place where Vince would look for Deloris.
- Armor-Piercing Response: When Deloris finds out about the convent's strict 9:00 curfew, she complains to Reverend Mother; the older woman's stern (and very accurate) answer hits Deloris hard, and makes her begin to reach out to the other nuns.Deloris: You know, before I came here, I had a career, I had friends—I had clothing that fit. Before I came here, I was okay.Reverend Mother: Oh, really? From what I've heard, your singing career was almost non-existent, and your married lover wants you dead. If you're fooling anyone, it is only yourself. God has brought you here. Take the hint.
- Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving:Reverend Mother: I hold you responsible for all of this. For introducing a lounge act into my convent, for utterly disrupting our lives, and exposing us all to mortal danger.
- Bait-and-Switch: Deloris leads the choir in a classical (and much improved) rendition of "Hail Holy Queen," before abruptly starting an up-tempo version.
- Becoming the Mask: A variation. While Deloris certainly never takes vows or becomes an "official" nun, she does slowly lose her snarky, self-absorbed attitude as she stays in the convent. By the end of the film, she's become a genuinely kind, compassionate person—much like the other nuns. It's best summarized when, in the final scene, Reverend Mother declares that, for all intents and purposes, Deloris is Sister Mary Clarence (see Even Evil Has Standards below).
- Better Than Sex: After two of the singing nuns refer to singing as being better than more innocent things such as "springtime" and "ice cream," the "heathen" Fish out of Water Deloris proclaims that singing is "better than sex," adding that it's what she has heard after a comedic Beat.
- Big Fun: Sister Mary Patrick loves everything, unapologetically. When Deloris asks her if she's always so cheerful:Sister Mary Patrick: Am I? All right, I am, I can't help it. I've always been upbeat, optimistic, perky. My mother always said, 'that girl is pure sunshine. She'll grow up to either be a nun or a stewardess'. Coffee?
- Big "WHAT?!": Deloris employs at least one, when Lt. Eddie Souther explains he can't spring her from the convent, and also that she can't continue calling him from there.
- Blithe Spirit: Inverted. Only one character in the entire movie insists that things should be the way they are, but she is subverted by everyone else.
- British Stuffiness: Reverend Mother (it is Maggie Smith, after all). However, this gradually modifies, especially in the sequel.
- Call-Back: Reverend Mother does not approve of the nuns leaving the convent at night, following Deloris into the bar across the streets, because people don't respect religious figures much in their neighbourhood. "These robes no longer protect our sisters. The walls do." Later, Deloris is abducted by Vince's thugs, Willy and Joey. They bring her back to the Moonlight Lounge and Vince orders them to shoot her — but they refuse, because "We can't waste a nun."
- Chekhov's Skill: Deloris's backup singers wonder what will happen to the act without Deloris to "pick all the music and tell us where to stand and everything"; i.e., she is the group's music arranger as well as its lead singer, which comes in handy in the convent choir as well.
- Christianity Is Catholic: Justified; how many people know that the Anglicans and Orthodox, among others, have nuns?
- Cool Old Lady:
- Sister Alma may be old and deaf, but she sure can tickle that ivory.
- Sister Mary Lazarus is pretty hip too. Despite her insistence upon how unhip she is.
- Reverend Mother is more this in the second movie, having gone through a Defrosting Ice Queen in film #1.
- Curse Cut Short: Deloris starts to say that the nuns' food taste like "shit"; Reverend Mother stops her by declaring a vow of silence.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Vince's hitmen Joey and Willy are very reluctant about killing a nun, even if it's someone they know dressed as a nun. Although he's too proud to admit it, clearly even Vince can't bring himself to shoot Deloris while she's in a nun's habit. Just the fact that she may have found God in her time at the convent is enough to make them uncomfortable and they even go along with her when she starts praying.Reverend Mother: I guarantee you she is no broad! She is Sister Mary Clarence of St. Katherine's Convent. She's a model of generosity, virtue, and love! You have my word for it, gentlemen, she is a nun!
Willy: [to Vince] Ya hear that? Now, aren't you glad we didn't shoot her?
- Everyone Has Standards: At the beginning of the film, Deloris is carrying on with Vince knowing full well that he's married and is generally a smart-mouthed, unpleasant person. She's almost tempted to return to him when he tries to buy her off with a gorgeous mink coat...but then she finds his wife's initials in it. Even the opportunistic Deloris can't bring herself to do that—"You don't earn other people's wives' fur coats, OK?"— and declares that enough is enough. Unfortunately, this sudden pang of conscience makes her witness Vince murdering someone, and kicks off the plot.
- The Faceless: Pope John Paul II's face is never shown, even though he appears from behind (presumably because he's too famous to portray with an actor and they could never get the real Pope to make a cameo in this film).
- The Family for the Whole Family: Played straight with Joey and Willy; averted with Vince.
- Fiery Redhead: Sister Mary Robert is a total aversion.
- Fish out of Water: Deloris at first in the convent.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble:
- Fur and Loathing: Vince tries to buy Deloris back by giving her a mink coat—turns out it belongs to his wife. Her rage at this and attempts to return it make her an eyewitness to a murder.
- Gender-Blender Name: As with many (but not all) nun orders, all of the nuns are named "Sister Mary X", with X being a male saint's name. The only two exceptions are Reverend Mother, who is called only by her title, and the nearly-deaf pianist Sister Alma.
- God-Is-Love Songs: Played with. Romantic songs such as "My Guy" are given new lyrics, focusing on religion rather than romance.
- Groin Attack: Deloris does this to both of Vince's goons after a prayer on her knees.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Reverend Mother lied to the thieves when saying that "Mary Clarence" is indeed a nun, when she is not. Remember, Reverend Mother is a nun (and a highly conservative one to boot), and saying lies is a big deal for them (it's one of the Ten Commandments). But, if she didn't, they would have killed Deloris, which justified it.
- It's also possible that she realized that Deloris, while not an avowed nun, did have the spirit and heart of one, so she was technically speaking the truth.
- There's also Deloris herself working to free Mary Robert from Vince's goons. She ends up shoving the younger woman out of the car, choosing to save her (and by extension, the other nuns) rather than escape.
- Hidden Depths: The main theme of the movie. Both Deloris and the nuns show it.
- Hollywood Nuns: All over this movie. And subverted in many ways.
- I'll Kill You!: When Lt. Souther sees Deloris Van Cartier (AKA: "Sister Mary Clarence") on TV, he's upset that Deloris is making no real attempt at hiding.Lt. Souther: I'm gonna kill her! I'm gonna kill her myself!
- I'm Going to Hell for This: Mary Lazarus believes sneaking ice cream into the convent is an indulgence, however...Sister Mary Lazarus: This is a sin, it's a wicked indulgence. [beat] Didn't they have any butter pecan?
- I Lied: Reverend Mother says this after the monsignor reminds her of her "vow of hospitality."
- Kitchen Chase: After Deloris witnesses the murder, her getaway takes her through the casino's kitchen.
- Last-Second Word Swap: Bless you.
- Locked Out of the Loop: Monsignor O'Hara and the Reverend Mother are the only ones in the covenant who know about "Mary Clarence's" true origins until Deloris gets snatched by the mob.
- Lost in a Crowd: Those habits sure make everyone look identical.
- The Mafia: Vince's Reno organization.
- Magical Negro: Deloris, especially as the Token Black of the convent in the first film.
- A Minor Kidroduction: The film opens with Deloris (about age nine) getting into trouble at a Catholic school for naming The Apostles as John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
- Missed Him by That Much: When the convent's good deeds and efforts to clean up their neighborhood make the news, Vince's wife Connie is seen watching the story. She calls to her husband (who has his back turned while practicing billiards) to come see the "cute little nuns"; had Vince turned around a few moments earlier, he would have spotted Deloris.
- Needle in a Stack of Needles: Double Subverted. Near the end of the film, Deloris escapes into a casino, where she sticks out because she's wearing her nun's habit... until a bunch of the other nuns also run into the casino to find her.
- Noodle Incident: Whatever the deal was with "Buckwheat Bertha"...
- One Steve Limit: Most of the nuns are called Sister Mary something but it's common for nuns to be given names like this when they join.
- Parenthetical Swearing: When Vince is being taken away by the cops.Deloris: I got two words for you, Vince.
Sister Mary Robert: [gasps] Mary Clarence!
Deloris: ...Bless you.
- Perpetual Smiler: Sister Mary Patrick. And it's genuine.
- Prayer of Malice: Played with during the climax. When the helicopter pilot refuses to fly the nuns to Reno, they pray, out loud and right in front of him in passive-aggressive fashion, that God will be kinder to him in his own hour of need than he was to them in theirs. They needle him by committee until he changes his mind.
- Also played with in a very similar way with Deloris and Vince's goons. When they untie her to take off her nun's costume (as they "can't waste a nun"), she immediately falls to the floor and begins praying, begging God to forgive them for having to do Vince's dirty work. The men actually go along with it and cross themselves...and that's when Deloris uses her kneeling positions to whack them in their crotches and run off.
- Reaction Shot: The scene in which the choir represents its new and improved self is full of these.
- Scream Discretion Shot: Deloris, upon seeing herself in a habit for the first time. "I look like a penguin!"
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Deloris reaction upon hearing about the vow of chastity she's expected to follow while doing her time disguised as a nun. She's dragged back by Mother Superior.
- Shout-Out: Look close at the back of the church in the final song of the first movie and you'll see The Blues Brothers in a rather familiar stance....
- Shrinking Violet: Sister Mary Robert.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Pretty high on the idealistic end, as Diana Ross cover songs are all that's needed to turn a slum into a vibrant street corner. The Reverend Mother expresses cynicism that her nuns can handle the harsh realities of the street, but that's because she's the "Stop Having Fun" Nun and her lesson is about how you can't shelter yourself away from the real world.
- Spell My Name with an "S": Deloris van Cartier, according to the subtitles. While the surname was chosen, it seems that her given name was spelled that way even as a child.
- Take a Third Option: Regarding singing the traditional way as Reverend Mother wanted or the new popular way brought by Deloris in the Pope visit. They ended up singing the first verse traditionally and then transitioning to the newer way.
- Took a Level in Kindness: Deloris' character arc is essentially this. Exemplified best when she is running for her life in the beginning she knocks people down and just runs. At the end, she stops to make sure they are all right, despite guns shooting at her.
- Two Words: Added Emphasis: "I got two words for you, Vince." "Mary Clarence!" *Beat* "Bless you."
- Viva Las Vegas!: The beginning and end of the first movie are set in Reno, which is close enough. Reverend Mother isn't too impressed.Sister Mary Patrick: And what a lovely name, Reno!
Reverend Mother: ...and Gomorrah!
- Vow of Celibacy: Deloris is not pleased when she is informed of the requirements of being a nun by the mother superior.
- Witness Protection: Deloris enters this in the first movie.
The second film provides examples of:
- Arc Words: In the second movie: "If you want to be somebody, if you want to go somewhere, you better wake up and pay attention."
- Banister Slide: Deloris at one point.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
- The two teenagers who overhear the nuns mentioning that "Sister Mary Clarence" has a past in Vegas give the camera synchronized confused looks. "Vegas?"
- And of course the camera mob during the closing credits....
- Drives Like Crazy: Father Thomas in the second film.
- Education Mama: Initially, Rita's mom does not bless her choir participation. It's made quite clear, albeit obliquely, that the reason she disapproves of her daughter's desire to sing and instead tries to force her to focus only on education is not a general "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" or "you have to have better opportunities and do better than I did" mentality, but because her husband tried the same path, failed utterly, and left the family destitute. So it isn't that she disparages Rita's dream, but that she finds it impractical and unrealistic and is afraid pursuing it could cost her, the same as happened to him.
- Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Distaff example. Rita's mother is determined to squash her dreams of becoming a singer. She won't even allow her to join the school choir as an extra curricular because she thinks she should be spending all her time studying to get into a good college.
- 555: Shows up when Rita is filling out her permission slip.
- Full-Name Ultimatum: Rita Louise Watson!
- Funny Background Event: After the rap segment in "Joyful Joyful", we see one of the boys run like a bunny to get back into his position in the choir.
- Genre Shift: The first movie is a Witness Protection comedy, while the sequel is a Save Our Students dramedy.
- Hey, Let's Put on a Show: While the choir competition in the sequel isn't created or put on by Deloris and the other nuns, it otherwise fulfills this trope, seeing as it a) gives the students confidence in themselves b) proves the school is and can be successful again and c) convinces the archdiocese not to close it.
- Inner City School: The main setting of the second movie, only with few Hispanic kids.
- Insistent Terminology: At the end of the film, the kids find out that she worked in Vegas, and they ask her about whether she was a Vegas showgirl.Deloris: Let's get one thing straight... I am not, nor have I ever been, a Las Vegas showgirl. I am a headliner!
- Nails on a Blackboard: In the second film, this is how Deloris gets the students' attention.
- Passing the Torch: In the first film, Deloris gets to know the sweet, Shrinking Violet novice Mary Robert, helping her to find her voice (literally) and become confident in herself. In the sequel, Mary Robert performs something of the same role (and even lampshades it to Deloris) for Rita.
- Previously On: The events of Sister Act are summed up with a medley at the beginning of the sequel.
- Save Our Students: Deloris' nun friends ask her to help turn around the choir of the Catholic school she attended as a child. Also overlaps with Saving the Orphanage, since thanks to the greedy superintendent, if Deloris can't turn the problem class around, the archdiocese is going to close the whole school and have it torn down to make, yes, a parking lot.
- Society Marches On: Historically, non-Catholic families have sent their children to Catholic schools in order to ensure that they get a better education than they would in public schools. Today, charter schools have largely filled that niche at no tuition cost. As such, the events of this movie are far less likely to happen in an inner-city setting today.
- So Proud of You: Rita's mother says this to her at the end of the movie.
- Whoopi Epiphany Speech: The sequel is pretty much one long one of these. (Incidentally, they work.)
- A Wild Rapper Appears!: "Who Got the Flo?" and the rap sequence in "Joyful, Joyful".
The stage musical provides examples of:
- Adaptation Name Change: Deloris' real name is Doris Wilson with Deloris Van Cartier being a stage name. Her gangster ex-boyfriend Vince has been renamed Curtis.
- Ambiguously Gay: The two antique-dealing bachelors who want to buy the convent.
- Big Eater: The musical version makes clear Sister Mary Patrick is one. The lyrics to "How I Got the Calling" specify she found God's vocation through food, such as seeing "the face of Jesus in a coconut cream pie."
- Do Not Call Me "Paul": Deloris hates Eddie calling her Doris.
- Everyone Went to School Together: Deloris and Lt. Eddie Souther were in the same class.
- Musical World Hypothesis: People now randomly burst into song as well as having realistic rehearsals and performances.
- Promoted to Love Interest: Eddie to Deloris.
- Race Lift: Vince/Curtis is now black and Lt. Souther is white.
- Setting Update: Inverted; the film was set in the then-present, but the musical goes back to 1978, so that Alan Menkin could do disco style songs.
- Summon Everyman Hero: The play starts with Mother Superior praying to God to save the convent. We then get a Gilligan Cut to Deloris performing on stage in a nightclub.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Philly cheese steaks for Deloris.