‘Cabrini’ Review: Angel Studios’ Uneven, Indifferent Biopic of a Determined Woman

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Alejandro Monteverde’s “Cabrini” reminds the audience of one extraordinary woman: Mother Cabrini (or Francesca Cabrini)—an Italian immigrant nun who travelled to New York in 1889 to look for orphans and create homes for them.

While Monteverde’s film highlights the main character’s incredible work and contributes to relaying a significant and shameful part of the United States’ history, including its encounters with xenophobia, the biopic as a whole falls short of leaving a lasting impression on the spectator. Despite its fantastic acting, the ensemble performers are unable to carry this overlong picture on their shoulder.

“Cabrini” begins with an emotional scene that sets the tone for the rest of the story. An immigrant boy travels through the streets of New York with his sick mother in a wheelbarrow. No one pays attention to his urgent pleas for help. People who pass ignore the distressed child, dismissing him as a nuisance.

Monteverde and screenwriter, Rod Barr, purposefully open the biopic in this manner to highlight the specific time in US history, where the influx of Italian immigrants unveiled New York’s xenophobic society.

Based on the true story of Frances Xavier Cabrini, the film depicts the titular character (Cristiana Dell’Anna) embarking on a daring journey with the fellow sister nuns. The God-fearing woman who speaks broken English and struggles with her health, utilizes her tenacity and passion to help those in need. While the sisters tirelessly work to create a loving home for children, Cabrini attempts to persuade the stern and frequently bigoted mayor Gould (John Lithgow) to provide healthcare for New York’s immigrant children.

There is no doubt the depicted piques interest regarding the central character post-viewing. While it’s a movie about a woman of faith it doesn’t dwell on religious themes too much, instead focusing on depicting Mother Cabrini’s life and highlighting her beginnings after arriving in the United States. One way in which “Cabrini” works is that its narrative prompts more study into her life and begs for recognition of how much work she has done for the Italian community in New York and other immigrant groups in the United States.

Cristiana Dell’Anna, who plays the titular role, does an excellent job of capturing the real woman’s drive, passion and love for children. Dell’Anna depicts her character venturing into a man’s world, with Cabrini challenging the Vatican and defying her employers in order to help orphaned kids.

Similar to Dell’Anna, Lithgow and Giancarlo Giannini deliver brilliant performances. The first of them, in particular, gives off similar negative connotations as one of his past characters, B.Z., from Jeannot Szwarc’s “Santa Clause: The Movie”—both of his characters are selfish men of power who only care about money.

David Morse, as Archbishop Corrigan, is another strong cast member, but ultimately they all serve as a canvas for Dell’Anna to exhibit her impressive acting abilities. As we observe Cabrini’s struggle to hop through the myriad fences of bureaucracy and prejudice, the creators experiment with camera angles, allowing the lead and supporting actors to occasionally break the fourth wall, thereby establishing clear contact with the audience.

Despite the strong cast, decent sets and costume design, the film falls short when capturing Cabrini’s life overall. The film is too long in certain instances and too short in others that could have been expanded. The tone is frequently too pompous and the music far too pretentious. Despite the scenes that pique your interest and compel you to finish the film, this biopic is relatively forgettable and one that you watch once and move on.

“Cabrini” manages to be stimulating as it shares a forgotten part of US history, but that’s not enough. The discussion about xenophobia and caste, so prevalent in the US to this day, could have been deeper and explored more. While Dell’Anna’s performance will captivate you as you follow Cabrini’s path to success, the film’s inconsistent pacing makes it a biopic for a single viewing.

“Cabrini” is in theaters March 8.

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