Film: Sister Act

Whoopi Goldberg as a nun... This is absolutely going to be awesome.
Reverend Mother: Girl groups? Boogie woogie on the piano? What were you thinking?
Sister Mary Clarence: I was thinking more like Vegas, you know, get some butts in the seats.

Two films that star Whoopi Goldberg as Deloris Van Cartier, a Reno lounge singer who pretends to be a nun and introduces excitement into the formerly-solemn local church music.

In the first Sister Act, 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 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...

Hilarity Ensues... with a tambourine.

A very popular film, arguably Whoopi Goldberg's best role ever, with a cast of beloved character actors and a magnificently long-suffering Maggie Smith as the Mother Superior. 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 (yes, that Alan Menken).

In Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, Deloris returns to visit her old friends at the convent and finds that the community school they've been teaching at 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.

These films provide 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."
  • Arson Murder And Life Saving:
    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.
    ...thank you.
  • 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 Dolores proclaims that singing is "better than sex," adding that it's what she has heard after a comedic Beat.
  • 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."

  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • Comedy Film, Quiet Drama Scene: While a number of the character-driven scenes in the convent as Deloris gets to know the nuns could count as this, the best example is when she first meets Mary Robert.
  • Curse Cut Short: Deloris starts to say that the nuns' food taste like "shit"; Reverend Mother stops her by declaring a vow of silence.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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?
  • 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.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Mother: 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.
    • Notable for having a particularly weak and vague motivation, where all we get is that it has something to do with Rita's father."You're not in there believing in yourself, are you?" Although see above: while vague, it isn't hard to read between the lines and guess that Rita's father tried pursuing his musical dreams, failed, and it cost him and Mrs. Watson enough to make her fear her daughter following the same path and failing too. So, less "don't believe in yourself" as "believing in yourself isn't enough in the real world".
  • Showgirl Out of Water: Deloris at first in the convent.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
  • 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.
  • Fur and Loathing: Trying to return a fur coat that actually belongs to her boyfriend's wife is when she sees him killing a guy.
  • 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.
  • Hey Lets 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.
  • Hidden Depths: The main theme of the movie. Both Deloris and the nuns show it.
  • I'll Kill You!: When Lt. Souther sees Deloris Van Cartier (AKA: "Sister Mary Clarence") on TV:
    "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."
  • Inner City School: The main setting of the second movie, only with few Hispanic kids.
  • Insistent Terminology: Deloris is not a Las Vegas show girl. She is a headliner!
  • Hollywood Nuns: All over this movie. And subverted in many ways.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Bless you.
  • 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 first film opens with Deloris (about age nine) getting into trouble at a Catholic school for naming The Apostles as John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
  • Nails on a Blackboard: In the second film, this is how Deloris gets the students' attention.
  • 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"...
  • Nuns Are Funny: Some are.
  • Parenthetical Swearing: When Vince is being taken away by the cops.
    Dolores: I got two words for you, Vince.
    Sister Mary Robert: *gasp* Mary Clarence!
    Dolores:...Bless you.
  • Passing the Torch: In the first movie, 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.
  • Perpetual Smiler: Sister Mary Patrick. And it's genuine.
  • Previously On: The events of Sister Act are summed up with a medley at the beginning of the sequel.
  • Save Our Students: The sequel, where Whoopi's 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.
  • Scream Discretion Shot: Whoopi, upon seeing herself in a habit for the first time. "I look like a penguin!"
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Deloris upon hearing about the vow of chastity. She's dragged back by Mother Superior.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Stuffy Brit: Reverend Mother (it is Maggie Smith, after all). However, this gradually modifies, especially in the sequel.
  • 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 in the first movie. 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 : "I got two words for you, Vince." "Mary Clarence!" *Beat* "Bless you."
  • Viva Reno: Where part of the first movie was set. 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.
  • 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".
  • Witness Protection: Deloris enters this in the first movie.