Your Sister's Sister Reviews
Dubious morals aside, nice acting. Rosemarie deWitt and Emily Blunt are convincing as sisters. It's a slow moving story and very talk driven. Won't be for all tastes.
Jack (Mark Duplass) is still coming to terms with the death of his older brother. His best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), who was his brother's girlfriend at the time of his passing, offers a suggestion. She arranges some alone time for the guy to clear his head. He bikes out to her family cabin but is surprised to find a guest already there, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), Iris' older sister. Hannah and Jack break the ice by bonding over their personal loss: his brother and her ending a seven-year relationship with her girlfriend. Over a long night of drinking, the two decide to impulsively have sex. The next morning is even more awkward when Iris shows up at the cabin, planning to finally reveal her own feelings for Jack. What follows may be one of the few character-based sitcom plots I've witnessed.
Much like Shelton's previous movie, the greatest strength of the film is how beautifully naturalistic it all feels while still telling an engaging story. The film has a relaxed vibe that washes over you, allowing you to immerse yourself in what feels like a real group of friends. There's a tremendous naturalistic ease the film exudes, with the actors so familiar with one another that they truly feel like family. When I have well developed characters, and actors who seem so knowledgeable of their character's tics and flaws and secrets and smallest details, I could honestly listen to them talk for hours. I don't want to mistakenly give the impression that this movie is a dull yakfest where the participants are in love with the sound of their own exceptional voices. Each scene in this movie advances the plot further, twisting the screws, complicating matters, and brimming with delightful awkwardness and tension. With 2009's Humpday, I wrote: "What I really appreciated about Humpday is that every moment feels genuine and every scene has a point. I was amazed that Shelton and her small unit of actors had made it so that every conversation had purpose; there is so little fat to this screenplay. Each scene reveals something new about a character or pushes the narrative forward toward its uncomfortable climax, and each moment never breaks the reality of the story." And the same can be said for Your Sister's Sister as well.
While the premise is a bit of a sitcom novelty with some farcical developments thrown in, the depth of the characters and the fantastic acting help to make sure that Your Sister's Sister is nothing but graceful and beguiling. And the escalating conflicts, personal revelations and complicated feelings, always find a way to come across as organic to the story. That's another amazing part of the film, that even with all the sexual hijinks that it still manages to feel grounded and surprisingly relatable. These are interesting, complicated, flawed, and spectacular characters, and watching them interact, profess their love through small actions and big declarations, seeing their heartfelt camaraderie, and watch them navigate their troubled lives to find some semblance of a happy ending is a joy to watch. This is a potent little movie, fully realized, poignant, funny, and genuine.
The film was shot over the course of 12 days and Shelton has said that much of the dialogue was improvised, working off her outline. Improvisation is a dangerous tact when dealing with a dialogue-driven film, such as this one. Just because it's coming off the top of your head doesn't mean it's going to sound good. Not everyone is gifted with the ability to improv dialogue that is true to character, revealing, advances the story, as well as just being entertaining. Luckily, Your Sister's Sister is the exception.
If Your Sister's Sister does have a weakness, it's the third act that seems to stall out without giving us much in development before tidying the broken relationships up again. The film's comedic structure could feel, in lesser hands, like a generic sitcom. It is to Shelton and her actors' credit that the twists and turns still manage to feel as believable as possible. The third act hits when all the secrets come out, pushing the characters away. Rather than ramping things up, we merely endure an extended wordless sequence of images of Jack biking around and the sisters burying the hatchet. Then it's time for our big happy romantic declaration that tidies everything up, and we're done. While satisfying on an emotional level given our empathy for the trio, the third act does seem very thin for an otherwise lean and well-structured story. It feels like perhaps Shelton only had enough plot for two acts.
The main trio is a rather engaging ensemble that convincingly plays a besotted group of friends and family. Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed) has gotten considerably more attention since starring in Shelton's last movie; the man and his schlubby, smirky charm are ubiquitous. He has a way of being edgy without pushy and nonplussed and flummoxed without going overboard. Duplass has a natural fit for comedy but the man can really excel with the meatier drama bits as well, displaying the painful yearning of a man caught between his desire and the need to move on. He's a winning and likeable presence that can still be endearing even when he's flailing around or making others uncomfortable.
DeWitt (The Watch) was a late addition to the cast, replacing Rachel Weisv (The Bourne Legacy) when scheduling conflicts got the best of her. She deserves extra kudos for how good she is considering the miniscule prep time she had compared with her costars. DeWitt is amusing in how cagey and sardonic she can be, and her chemistry with Blunt (Looper) is outstanding. I greatly enjoyed the subtle nuances between them, the way their body language and gestures added extra layers to their relationship, the familiar communication and sisterly code, and just the smallest details that felt well thought out. The relationships in Your Sister's Sister feel sweetly genuine, and with the benefit of great actors, it lays the groundwork for characters we care about.
Three people sharing time in a cabin might not seem like an exciting setup for a movie, unless, of course, there's some supernatural presence murdering them in grisly fashion. However, when you lock away three great actors who know their characters inside out, a smart script that allows them the space to develop but pushes the movie forward scene-by-scene, and direction that feels seamless with the storytelling, then you have something special, and that something special is Your Sister's Sister. While I think Shelton's previous film had more at play concerning male relationships and sexual politics, this one, with a more straightforward, farcical plotline, is still plenty entertaining and with strong character work (the ending does leave one very large question unanswered). This is charming, sweet, unassuming little indie film that will provide a solid dose of smiles and laughs.
Nate's Grade: B+
Recently, I viewed Your Sister's Sister based on a recommendation. I honestly hadn't heard a stitch about the film until the referral. When I looked it up I saw who starred in it; I immediately put it on my list to watch. (Unfortunately, I missed it when it was out in theatres but it was just released on Vudu - a VOD channel on my Roku Box.) Mark Duplass and Emily Blunt play best friends in this indie film about friendship, family, loss and taking risks.
For some reason I don't want to really go too deep into this particular film or its intentions. I enjoyed the story for the most part. The performances were good and natural (mainly due to Mark Duplass and I have a feeling his style is infectious). Your Sister's Sister reminded of a play, and I think would work very well as one. The majority of it takes place in a cabin with just conversations between two or three people (exception with the opening scene). The film is about two sisters and one of the sister's best friend (Mark Duplass) and what happens over a week or so at the cabin.
I recommend seeing this film if for nothing else than to see Mark Duplass, especially if you haven't seen any of his performances before. He is part of a new acting approach and is noted as one of the founders despite his lack of approval for such claims. For now it's called mumblescore, but many of the people who are tagged with this "movement" don't want to be associated with it per se. Mainly that's due to getting clumped in with thinking they only make American indie films. But truth be told a lot of these actors are gainfully employed by big studios in addition to indie films. Labels don't really interest them - they are just making movies and doing their job as they wish. (Full disclosure: I was not aware of this label until writing this review, but I do see the level of acting has changed whether actors want to be labeled with it or not.)
Either way, I like the style of acting. As stated above there is a honesty to Mark Duplass' approach to acting and Safety Not Guaranteed - one of my favorite films of 2012 - showcases such talent, a film he stared in 2012. And the same style can be seen in Your Sister's Sister. The other actors also demonstrated a purity in their performances playing sisters (except that Emily Blunt's British accent would creep in now and again) who reveal some secrets about themselves during the week at the cabin.
Bottom line: Your Sister's Sister was a good film. I would like to see more of the writer/director Lynn Shelton's work, Mark Duplass and anyone involved in making films that are pure and naturalistic. Now I will always enjoy escaping the real world when watching a film so it's nice to have variety style when going to the theatre.
Review: 7 out of 10
The chemistry between Duplass, Blunt, and DeWitt is extraordinary. It is a joy to just watch them banter and the sexual tension is palpable, a rarity in a romantic comedy/drama. While that is good and all, it isn't enough to carry an entire film. Especially one that relies so much on improv.
Yet, that is pretty much all we have here. Wildly enjoyable chemistry, but without a solid story to really give it life.
This is very much a "first world problems" type storyline. Duplass and Blunt are in love with each other but fear it won't be reciprocated if they reveal their true feelings. Now I can understand the schlubby Duplass keeping quiet as his life is a train wreck and he seems quite unlikable. Blunt on the other hand is harder to swallow. Would a girl with her looks fall for such a loser in the first place? Surely she can't think there's any chance he might reject her? If there was any doubt over Blunt's acting chops this performance dispels them, she's certainly a lot more than just a pretty face. I believe she's the most charismatic actress of her generation. I've seen her in three poor films this year and she's enlivened them all with her natural charm.
Halfway through, the plot twist I alluded to plunges the film into what in reality would be a very dark place. DeWitt is found to have committed an act that wouldn't be out of place in a psychological thriller. How does Shelton deal with this dark turn of events? She doesn't. Instead she pawns it off with a montage of characters crying in their beds and throwing stones into rivers. The characters resolve their problem far too easily to be any way believable. An ambiguous ending is supposed to make the viewer draw their own conclusion but the whole situation is so ridiculous by that point it's hard to care.
On the one hand, "Your Sister's Sister" is definitely a more polished effort than Lynn Shelton's previous effort, "Humpday," as she does quite well with framing her actors while executing a couple of impressive two-shots. At the same time, she manages to maintain the naturalism with the help of some excellent chemistry between her actors. However, I would have liked more exterior shots as there is some beautiful scenery to be had, but mostly only in establishing shots. Otherwise, one could argue this is little more than a standard three act play, albeit a witty, charming and touching one that ends in just the right place. So, relax, you are in good, if flawed, company, in this thoughtful study of how family can work for and against people. Just remember that solitude may be good for a while, but we all need somebody to talk to and be with, eventually.
The film entertains more than your usual minimalist mumblecore opus of this type, but still, the fact of the matter is that these films aren't exactly known for being loads of good old-fahioned fun, and sure enough, with all of its charm and entertainment value, this film still finds time to slow down and slip into some considerable slow spells, which momentarily disengage and would be easier to forgive if it wasn't for the fact that this film of barely an hour-and-a-half is, believe it or not, quite overdrawn, largely because its character don't know when to shut up. No, but seriously though, as enjoyable as this film's dialogue is, plotting goes retarded a bit by the dialogue pieces around which this film's story structure is built's being overlong, padding out one scene after another, and making the awkwardness you'd expect from padding caused soley by overdrawn dialogue all the worse with the usual awkwardness spawned from dialogue's mumblecore natrualism's getting to be too personal to people you're observing objectively. Of course, with that said, with all of these characters' rambling on and on about their lives, you still don't find as firm a grip on everyone as much as you probably should, as expository dialogue gets lost in the midst of simple filler dialogue, being most definately present, but paper-thin. What you end up with is an overlong and underdeveloped dialogue film that presents people who may be charming, but are just too blasted normal and unfamiliar to be all that exciting, and a story that doesn't simply outstay its welcome, but firmly reminds you time and again of its not being all that meaty to begin with. As with so many mumblecore films, this project boasts a story that is so thin that it makes Christina Ricci look like Melissa McCarthy, having no real consequence to conflict, scarce depth to flesh-out, limited eventfulnes to story structure and quite a bit of blandness to atmosphere. Hardly anything goes on in this plot, and when things do happen, whether it be because things are so underdeveloped, or because things were never to be too consequential, it's hard to care all that much, thus the naturally flawed film is rendered underwhelming to a point beyond repair, while entertainment value is left to make or break the final product as likable. Well, sure enough, with all of this film's intentional shortcomings, there is enough entertainment vaue to get you by, and much of it, believe it or not, rests within an aspect that often helps in blanding up the film: dialogue.
Its storytelling about as thin as its actual story concept, this film is driven all but entirely, not by action, but by dialogue, and as I said, such a storytelling method gets to be problematic, - whether it be because of its being a thin method, or simply because of it's being too awkwardly natrualist - especially it goes too far, dragging out dialogue and, by extension, the film itself into a rather blandly overlong talkie that, in order to sustain your attention, must deliver on some charming words, and sure enough, both Lynn Shelton's scripted dialogue and the performers' improvisational skills deliver on plenty of snap to the dialogue that charms in a reasonably entertaining fashion, when not being genuinely kind of funny. As a storytelling component, this film's excessive dialogue, both filler and barely adequately expository, doesn't really work, but as an entertainment component, the snap to the film's near-endless ramblings really does get you by, and recieves some help from certain other strengths in Shelton's script. Okay, strengths are very limited in Shelton's screenplay, though that's primarily because there really is only to much to Shelton's script, but when Shelton does get something right, at least as writer, she replenishes your investment, with one of her greatest strengths being the ability to avoid rom-com tropes. Sure, this film owes much of its unconventionalism in plotting to its having only so much plotting at all, but the fact of the matter is that this film is, to a certain degree, refreshing, and from its audacious unconventionalism and minimalism comes a kind of genuineness that is hard to deny, and goes intensified by what flesh-out there is to Shelton's script. Next to the dialogue, characterization is the greatest strength in this film's script, because as thin as this film's exposition is, Shelton succeeds in crafting situations and characters that are reasonably relatable, even with a few abnormal bits, but distinguished enough to be, not necessarily all that compelling, but certainly charming. There's not too much to our characters for you to gravitate toward them all that considerably, but the humanity that drives this film proves to be genuine enough to sustain some degree of your investment, and for that, it mostly has to thank, not Shelton's characterization, but this film's three leads, Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt, all of whom charm distinctively by their own individual rights, and share sparkling chemistry that sell you on the human depths of this film's character, especially when backed up by a bit of emotional depth by everyone toward the film's end. Our performers bond with their roles and carry this film that definately needs someone to carry it, seeing as how it's just too thin to survive without the help of the snappy charm, color and all around entertainment value that this film delivers on enough to keep you going, even if you won't exactly find yourself walking away with all that much worth remembering.
Bottom line, slow spells go exacerbated by an exceedingly overdrawn and, to a certain degree, a bit too awkwardly naturalist form of dialogue storytelling that, alongside a considerable lack of development, emphasize this film's story's being too startlingly paper-thin to be anything more than underwhelming, which isn't to say that dialogue doesn't help in making this film as enjoyable as it is, keeping you going with undeniable snap and genuineness, augmented by the script's unconventionalism and colorful characterization, and truly sparked to life by a triad of charismatic performances by leads Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt, whose charming believability and sparkling chemistry do about as much as anything in making "Your Sister's Sister" an adequately entertaining mumblecore opus that charms thoroughly, even if it isn't exactly all that genuinely compelling.
2.5/5 - Fair
The screenplay works on a few levels, covering the subjects of romance, grief and sibling rivalry with invigoratingly honest dialogue and easy humour. If you love absurdly likeable acting, delightful screenplay and passionate directing - this is my choice!