Alison Pill explores joy and sadness in the film All My Puny Sorrows

Alison Pill as Yoli in All My Puny Sorrows. Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

Casting the role of a devoted young woman whose sister struggles with deep depression after attempting suicide was challenging Alison Pills embraced with every fiber of their being.

In the new film All My Puny Sorrows from Momentum Pictures, Pill plays Yoli Von Riesen and her lifelong friend Sarah Gadon portrays her troubled sister Elf Von Riesen. Mare Winningham plays her mother Lottie.

The poignant film with a long family history of depression and suicide is based on Miriam Toews’ bestselling novel of the same nameallows us to watch these actors deal with the ups and downs that come from family angst. We also allow ourselves to be taken on a highly emotional journey.

Pill, now 36, began her film and television career at the age of 12. She is best known for her films Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Midnight in Paris, Milk and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

On television, she has appeared in The Newsroom and Star Trek: Picard and Them.

Pill acknowledges that each role comes with its own learning curve, even if the material isn’t steeped in heavy drama.

“Life lessons can be learned from a really goofy comedy that may not be apparent in the final product,” Pill tells Monsters & Critics exclusively.

“I wouldn’t say the more emotional ones lead to more emotional revelations,” she added. “But when it comes to this film, the greatest gift I’ve had has been Sarah [Gadon] and I to be able to hold space for each other in each of our performances and fight for the choices we wanted to make.

Please read on about Pill’s emotional portrayal in All My Puny Sorrows, a candid discussion of bravery and which film her fans still want to talk about 20 years later

Was it difficult to get into that headspace with all the love and bonds the two sisters have in the film?

Alison pill: I think Sarah Gadon and I have known each other since we were kids. We went to the same school and made a film together as teenagers. There are many things that you have to somehow recreate when playing siblings or people in a long-term relationship that actually existed for us in our lives. This made it a special, unique experience.

We also found each other at similar points in our adult lives and with such a mutual respect and similar way of working that I think I feel it was such a gift to be given this opportunity to be on film together and to be able to work in a team on this material.

How important is this to you as a cautionary tale to perhaps notice if our loved ones are in pain or even contemplating suicide? Did that flow into your research or preparation for this film?

no The book All My Puny Sorrows is based on the life of Miriam Toews. I had no need to research further because the book and her experience told me everything I needed to know. And the author’s own wrestling with these questions of what to do, I think that from her own experience we are so much bigger than anything I could fabricate.

Why do you want my readers and other viewers to see this film?

I think it’s a good film with good performances. I think it’s beautifully photographed. I also think it’s a theme that somehow just reminds of tragedy. I think the power of the film is that it also has a lot of life affirming lessons and a lot of love.

I think the question it raises as to why some people can stay afloat through despair and others can’t is one that people who are dealing with depression wrestle with, family members of people who are dealing with depression . I think the way he approaches these issues with respect and open-mindedness, and a real lack of judgment, is something new to bring to discussions of depression and suicide.

Sarah Gordon as Elf and Alison Pille as Yoli
Sarah Gordon as Elf and Alison Pill as her sister Yoli. Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

Do you think the discussion that arises in the film about being brave despite difficulties in your own life is something that was important to you or is one of the themes?

That Yoli or her sister are brave?

That both are brave.

I think exploration is less about courage and more about just moving on. Like holding on. There is a scene between Yoli and her mother where Yoli asks her mother, “Is that too much?” Her mother replies, “Almost.”

It’s like holding that answer almost as best you can, most of the time. Or is it too much? It could be. But not today. And I think there is hope in that. I don’t know if that’s courage or just some kind of willful optimism, but it’s getting us through.

You have done many different projects. Some are more emotional than others. Do you feel that you have been personally changed in any way by this material and this film that explores these issues?

I think the changes happen somehow in the process and not so much because of the film or the material involved. And really, this merger was a really spectacular feeling. It was truly magical to witness this creative force flowing back and forth between us.

Are you more recognizable by specific projects you’ve worked on, like Star Trek: Picard or Newsroom, or by a conglomeration of your work?

Honestly, to this day, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen is one of the most common, and 20 years later.

Mare Winningham as Lottie and Alison Pill as Yoli
Mare Winningham as Lottie and Alison Pill as her daughter Yoli. Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

Do you have a career plan?

no I think what I’ve gained over the last few years is the feeling that I want to have more ownership and control over future projects. Working as an actor is incredible, but I think the limitations that you can encounter in terms of the way productions are run, in terms of questions I have that aren’t answered, I’d like to have one more official position to get people to reply to my emails.

So you’re thinking about producing?

Possibly. But it’s just about – it’s not necessarily about changing the size of the parts or the types of parts or who I’m working with. I’m becoming a stronger believer in the no jerks rule. That’s going to be a bigger part of my thing.

I think as I get older and I’ve learned to rely less and less on the reception, critics or box office or whatever, the reception of the thing, it’s a lot more about the process and the ability to make sure that the People are respected I believe they should be pervasive throughout the process so that everyone feels part of the same creative team. What I see on some sets and less on others. I’d like to see it more broadly and have a say in how to encourage that.

When you shoot an emotional scene, and there are a lot of them in this film, do you take that home with you?

No, definitely not. What carries over is simply exhaustion. Just like every time you’re tired after crying, there’s something draining about sorting out emotions. But I don’t take the anger or sadness home with me. Especially as my daughter is five and would take care of it unless there was an issue with her dinner and bath time. It’s a wonderful way to get back to what my real life is. I have no real confusion in this regard.

For more drama movies, see EXCLUSIVE: You Won’t Be Alone explores fables, mystical and human subjects

All My Puny Sorrows is currently available on-demand and digitally. Alison Pill explores joy and sadness in the film All My Puny Sorrows

Callan Tansill

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