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Film / The Singing Nun

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The Singing Nun is a 1966 American semi-biographical film directed by Henry Koster, about the life of Jeanine Deckers (aka Sœur Sourire lit. Sister Smile/"The Singing Nun" in the West), a Belgian nun who in 1963 recorded the chart-topping hit song, "Dominique". Debbie Reynolds stars in the title role as the nun named Sister Ann, with a supporting cast including Ricardo Montalbán, Greer Garson, Agnes Moorehead, and Katharine Ross. Ed Sullivan appears as himself in a scene where the Singing Nun performs on his TV show. The Singing Nun's original songs were translated into English by Randy Sparks.

Despite the film being labeled as semi-biographical, Jeanine Deckers herself allegedly rejected the film as "fiction".

Compare Sister Act if you want a movie with lots of music that also involves nuns but funnier and quirkier.

The film provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless:
  • Animated Credits Opening: With Sister Ann riding her moped on her way to the convent.
  • As Himself: Ed Sullivan.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: In contrast to the perfection of the movie, the real Jeanine Deckers was a very conflicted personality who did not like the attention of the world and definitely did not hold an attraction to a male record producer as shown in the film. In fact, she left the order in 1965, accompanied by her lover, Annie Pescher, whom she stayed with until their mutual suicide pact in 1985.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Subverted with Nicole, who has no qualms in bringing along her brother to questionable establishments, exposed to alcohol and cigarettes. Her big sister instinct only kicks in after learning about the fact that her little brother was just hit by a car. She becomes angry and blames Sister Ann for it though she becomes guilty of her own actions later on.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Dominic, Nicole, and their dad go away for a while to a pig farm in the countryside. Nichole later makes amends with Sister Ann. Sister Ann forgives her, and she also gives away her guitar, Adele, to Nichole. Some time passes, she and Sister Mary become missionaries in Africa and help the sick in a poor village where the villagers celebrate their arrival.
  • Companion Cube: Her precious guitar she named Adele.
  • Cool Bike: Sister Ann's moped. At least for the standards of a nun.
  • Creator Breakdown: In-universe. She becomes conflicted with her musical success and Robert's personal interest in her. It gets worse when Dominic gets hit by a vehicle and later that night, she "couldn't pray", meaning unable to sing and play her guitar.
  • Driving a Desk: Sister Ann on the scooter and later, when she and Sister Mary are riding in their jeep.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Father Clementi tries to invoke this on Robert who, for most of the film, is holding a torch for Sister Ann, despite having already become a nun.
  • Magical Negro: Sister Mary (who is the only black character to be seen for most of the film). Especially when she tells a woman who had just fainted that she's planning to have an abortion and tries to convince her not to do it when she shares how she's the product of a failed abortion herself. Whether this helped isn't made known.
  • Missing Mom: Nicole and Dominic's mother.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Later, while walking down the street, she hears a nightclub playing rock 'n' roll music to the tune of her song, Dominique, realizing that she is losing sight of what's important. It didn't help that this all happened just after the accident of little Dominic.
  • Stern Nun: Sister Cluny. Averted for the Mother who is much more open.
    • Sister Ann herself is a downplayed example who is predictably against certain things like posing nude for pictures (when she discovers this is how Nicole is making money) and abortions (when a woman expresses no desire to keep her baby). When she tries to call them out for doing these things, she comes off more judgmental than compassionate, at first.