By Phil Hall | November 12, 2004

“Therese” is a painfully sincere but hopelessly amateurish biopic focusing on the brief life of St. Therese of Lisieux. If one believes this film, the young saint was a spoiled, petulant teenager who used her wealthy father’s connections to lobby a local bishop and to ask Pope Leo XIII to bend church rules and allow her to enter a convent at the too-young age of 15. In the convent, Therese proved to be something of a bumbler, spilling food on a mother superior and manhandling an arthritic older nun in need of ambulatory assistance. An inconvenient bout with TB, which apparently no one in the convent noticed until it was too late despite the girl’s operatic coughing, brought her life to a premature close. But the discovery and posthumous publication of her convent diary gave her global fame and made her source of eager prayers from the easily distressed.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Therese’s life, but I find it inconceivable that the real Therese was as self-absorbed and self-centered as the girl in this film. The cinematic Therese is not in love with God and Jesus, but rather she is in love with the fact that she is in love with God and Jesus. Therese’s convent life is also depicted here on the level of sitcom buffoonery, complete with eye-rolling nuns and Therese goofing up simple tasks such as cleaning a spider web or wringing out laundry. This doesn’t feel like a genuine in-depth biography of St. Therese of Lisieux, but rather a big screen version of “St. Therese of Lisieux for Dummies.”

The acting doesn’t help. Lindsay Younce is much too mature to play Therese, and her clueless line readings makes the young nun seem simple-minded rather than innocently simple. She also has uncommonly thick eyelashes, which flutter melodramatically when she pauses to gaze at statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Leonardo Defilippis, who directed this film, plays Therese’s father with an endless supply of enthusiasm — his joviality is such that he often appears ready to burst into song and dance. It’s hard to imagine why he is so happy, considering he’s in the middle of such a mediocre movie. The rest of the no-star cast performs at the level of high school theater.

Sadistic nuns who’ve run out of ways to punish unruly Catholic school students may wish to consider running “Therese” as a means of instilling classroom discipline. But otherwise, recommending this film is a down and out sin.

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