Seen during SIFF last spring, this adaptation of Matt Smith’s 1997 stage monologue has three irresistible selling points if you’re a) Catholic, b) were raised on East Capitol Hill during the 1960s, and c) have an aversion to warm and easy nostalgia. Directed by Bret Fetzer (who also staged the original monologue), Nuns doesn’t cover a lot of ground, but it also doesn’t need to. It’s a condensed, somewhat fictionalized account of what it meant to be a teenage troublemaker during 1966–67, when Smith and his buddies were in the eighth grade at St. Joseph’s.
Smith is unsparing—and often hilarious—about his clannish, insular, and bigoted parish, populated by large families whose kids were just beginning to sense the liberal breeze of the late ’60s. Seattle was then a thoroughly Republican and conservative town, segregated by class, faith, and race. Open-housing laws didn’t yet exist, and Smith—variously playing his younger self, peers, and elders—is frank about how the Madison Valley was then called Coon Hollow, a term none even thought to question.
The anecdotes and adventures Smith relates aren’t terribly novel (stealing from the collection plate, etc.); but again, they don’t need to be. Their snotty, profane details transport us—meaning Seattle natives; Amazon newcomers won’t care—back to our city’s preliberal roots. Seattle is then seen through the parochial perspective of a lad Smith has subsequently called “a 13-year-old white Catholic boy who is cluelessly racist, homophobic, and misogynistic, and is only now just barely beginning to confront the horror of his thinking.”
Although it didn’t occur to me last year, when I interviewed Smith and Fetzer before SIFF, Nuns deserves comparison to the ’60s coming-of-age-on-Mercer Island memoir Cheese Deluxe by the late Greg Palmer, who shares Smith’s wry observational tone. Too much of Seattle’s history has been written in pious, pooh-poohing tones of disapproval: Oh, we’re so much better than that now. Smith doesn’t have any such pretentions or delusions. We’re no better now, but we better understand the past by describing it truthfully (salted with a little art and embellishment). This is regional filmmaking at its most amusing and specific. Note: Smith and Fetzer will appear at selected screenings, as will producer Michael Seiwerath and cinematographer Ben Kasulke.
MY LAST YEAR WITH THE NUNS Runs Fri., Jan. 9–Thurs., Jan. 15 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 75 minutes.