In 1926, Sister Aimee Semple McPherson (Anna Margaret Hollyman) was America’s most famous evangelist. Some believed she was a messenger of God, others a fraud. But when she vanished one day in plain sight, it caused quite a stir among her followers.
While loosely based on a real person, “Sister Aimee” is a mostly imagined fantasy that fills in the gaps of what happened during her mysterious disappearance. (The film’s opening credits claim about 5% of the story is true). It’s not a biopic in any sense, but it’s a wild ride to watch co-writers / co-directors Marie Schlingmann and Samantha Buck take full control of creative license and use their imaginations to craft a folksy road trip around a charlatan faith healer, her writer boyfriend Kenny (Michael Mosley), and a mysterious Mexican woman named Rey (Andrea Suarez Paz) who serves as their driver and guide across the border.
The playful film has a lively irreverence that fits the subject. It’s astounding that during her time, Sister Aimee was the second most popular religious figure in America — behind the Pope. She was a flashy entertainer who would tap dance her way into the souls of sinners, and Hollyman is perfectly cast in the role. The supporting characters are a joy to watch onscreen too, especially when it comes to Aimee and Rey’s chemistry. Along the way, the trio encounter a folksy group of locals at different paths in their journey, including a priest with a secret and a band of dangerous vagabonds that they must fight off.
The slow-moving story stumbles a bit with its lack of structure, but the duo’s savvy direction keeps things interesting. Thematic feminist elements shine through as the women are strong, fierce, and a force to be reckoned with. The film is a satisfying blend of vintage comedy, western, romance, and musical elements, all combined to make one heck of a good tall tale.