Novitiate is the type of film that is certainly very good, watchable at every point and certainly significant, but it could have and should have been great.
Ostensibly about one young girl’s desire to fall in love, but with God, (the young girl in question eventually grows to be played by Margaret Qualley, expressing much with her eyes). Cathleen lacks a male role model in her life, her father a loutish drunk, and her mother (Julianne Nicholson) not much better. No wonder she seeks comfort as a nun, but film plays out like a football film, or an army movie, and feels a little bit like Whiplash.
Maggie Betts and her mostly female crew film and capture the action very well, but Qualley is often upstaged by some powerful performers, first Nicholson, and then Melissa Leo as the Mother Superior. Leo essentially steals every scene and a confrontation between her and Denis O’Hare is an acting showcase for the ages. Ultimately, the metaphor of Vatican II takes hold and, like the Mother Superior, Betts could have had maintained strength in her conviction.