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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: Your Sister's Sister (2012)

* * *

Director: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mark Duplass

Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister doesn't have a ton of plot, but it could do with far less. It hinges on three very assured and engaging performances but those performance often find themselves at the mercy of a plot which, the more it develops, the more soapy and contrived it starts to seem. When the film pulls back and just lets the characters be, it's fantastic; it's only when it starts to force the plot that the structure begins to creak.

Your Sister's Sister begins as a story about a man struggling to cope with the loss of his brother. The man is Jack (Mark Duplass), who uses a gathering to commemorate the one year anniversary of his brother's death to make the awkward argument that, hey, maybe his brother wasn't such a great guy afterall. He doesn't mean to sound like a jerk when he's doing this; his point is simply that his brother wasn't a saint, but rather a human being with flaws, and his goal, though he may not fully realize it, is to stake his claim on his brother and have everyone recognize that however profound their bond with his brother was, it's doesn't compare to his own bond with him. Unfortunately his speech doesn't play that way to those assembled at the party and his best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), who is also his brother's ex-girlfriend, gently suggests that it's time for him to get himself together. To that end she suggests that he head out to her family's cabin, situated in a remote area of a nearby island, where he'll have no distractions and be able to do nothing but think.

Arriving at the cabin, however, Jack finds that it already has an occupant: Iris' sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has sought refuge at the cabin after ending a seven year long relationship. In the film's best sequence, Jack and Hannah spend a long night talking and drinking tequila, bonding and, perhaps inevitably, starting to circle around the subject of sex. Being a dude, Jack feels obliged to put the subject out there just in case and is shocked by Hannah's revelation that, despite being a lesbian, she's not totally averse to the idea. The next morning they have a few regrets, prompted by the sudden arrival of Iris and her later revelation to Hannah that she's in love with Jack, and spend a few days scrambling to try to keep Iris from finding out about the tryst.

Your Sister's Sister is in many ways a chamber play between the three characters, though unlike a lot of actual stage to screen adaptations (Sister is from an original screenplay from Shelton), it doesn't feel airless or stilted; it breathes easily and doesn't have to strain to open up its mise en scene. Many scenes sparkle with an improvisational feel and very natural sounding dialogue, which all three actors are adept at delivering, and there's a fully realized feeling to all three characters and to the relationships between Jack and Iris, and Iris and Hannah. Blunt is an actress who doesn't always find roles that are equal to her considerable talents, but she really shines here, as do both DeWitt (who really ought to have had an Oscar nomination for her performance in Rachel Getting Married) and Duplass, who brings a kind of rumpled charm to Jack, a character who might otherwise seem like too much of a loser.

The film is at its best when it just lets the characters talk, allowing the them and their relationships to take on new complexities and shades in a way that feels natural and honest. Where the film began to lose me is with its plot twists and turns which ultimately lead to a happy ending which feels unearned. On the one hand, I was actually grateful for the third act revelation which rectifies the tired movie trope of the lesbian who sleeps with a man, but on the other hand it just feels so forced that it really took me out of the movie. Ultimately, Your Sister's Sister is a film with a fair number of charms, but a few notable flaws as well.

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