20 Years of ‘Sister Act’: An Appreciation

Movies & TV

On May 29, 1992, “Sister Act” opened in the U.S., and Whoopi Goldberg was finally given the spotlight. Granted, Goldberg had become an actress to watch after playing Celie in “The Color Purple” in 1985, and then a household name when she won an Academy Award for her comedic masterpiece Oda Mae Brown in 1990’s “Ghost.” But “Sister Act” still is, 20 years later, Whoopi’s most indelible starring role. It’s the crowd-pleasing fish-out-of-water vehicle most actors dream of eyeing when they stroll up to the plate for a much-needed hit.

It’s a simple premise — Reno showgirl catches mobster boyfriend offing his chauffeur, joins the witness protection program, gets placed in a convent, becomes “Sister Mary Clarence” and hijinks ensue — that is gleefully constructed in its first 15 minutes, but the ride is such dumb fun that viewers never mind its formulaic setup. Seriously, try and pull yourself away from this one when it’s on TV, and you’ve gotten sucked in to Whoopi’s wisecracks. So many of “Sister Act’s” one-liners are easy to spot from a mile away: when Mother Superior (Maggie Smith) tells the uber-skeptical Sister Mary Clarence, “There are three vows every nun must accept — the vow of poverty, the vow of obedience, and the vow of… chastity,” and Whoopi shakes her grand finger and says, “I am OUTTA here with that!”, it’s a broad, obvious joke, but one that the master comic effortlessly sells. “Sister Act,” after all, was not produced to be edgy or provocative, but to earn belly laughs from 6-year-olds and 60-year-olds, anxious to see what inconceivable trouble the foul-mouthed nun will get into next.