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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Review: Sisters (2015)

* * *

Director: Jason Moore
Starring: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler

Sisters is the kind of movie that looks like it was a lot of fun to make. It's a lot of fun to watch, too, but not as much fun as it seems like it would have been to make. It features a story which isn't particularly developed beyond its basic premise - Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are sisters - which results in a bit of narrative shagginess over the course of its 118 minutes, but the anarchic glee with which Fey and Poehler and a ton of other names from Saturday Night Live and the comedy world beyond (to name a few: Maya Rudolph, John Leguizamo, Samantha Bee, Bobby Moynihan, Rachel Dratch, and Kate McKinnon) come together to play is more than enough to make it worth the price of admission. Sisters isn't as nuanced or as clever as Fey or Poehler's best work, but it's one of the most flat out funny movies I've seen in some time.

Fey and Poehler are Kate and Maura, respectively, too very different sisters. While Maura is responsible and dependable, Kate is seemingly forever adrift and is contending with being out of a job and couch surfing. She is also struggling with the fact that her teenage daughter, Haley (Maddison Davenport) is living elsewhere and won't tell Kate where, likely out of fear that Kate's legendary temper would be unleashed if her worry over where Haley was were to be replaced with her knowledge of who has been secretly harboring her. Fear of Kate's temper also prompts Kate and Maura's parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) to decide not to tell her that they're selling the family home, asking Maura to do it for them instead and also to come home to Orlando and clean out their old bedroom. While Maura does get Kate to come to Orlando, she opts not to tell her about the house being sold, believing that she'll be able to talk their parents out of it, only to arrive and find a "sold" sign already planted in the lawn. Discovering that their parents have already moved themselves into a condo, Maura and Kate are informed that they need to pack up by the end of the weekend so that the new owners can take possession, derailing Kate's tentative plan to move back to Orlando with Haley and live with her parents while she tries to get back on her feet.

Reflecting on the childhood, and in particular the adolescence, they spent in the home, Kate and Maura decide to have one last party there as a farewell to their past, with Kate reluctantly agreeing to stay sober and make sure things don't get out of control so that Maura can let loose and maybe make something happen with James (Ike Barinholtz), a man who lives down the street. They then send out the word to some friends from high school, but purposely exclude Brinda (Maya Rudolph), Kate's nemesis from high school whom they then promptly run into while shopping for provisions, reigniting what should be a long-dead feud. That, however, turns out to be the only thing that is exactly as it once was, as once people start arriving for the party, Kate and Maura are disappointed to realize that their friends are no longer the crazy party people they once were. Unwilling to let the last night in the house pass in such a sedate fashion, Kate and Maura do everything they can to ratchet things up, including getting their friend, Dave (Leguizamo), to call a drug dealer (John Cena) so that they can buy some pot. He brings a lot more than just pot, however, and as things start to veer wildly out of control, and Maura is off with James, Kate finds herself unable to reign things in as everyone around her starts to lose their damn minds.

I admit that I had the slightest bit of trepidation about Sisters (which, in addition to the fact that it came out in December, the most overwhelming month in terms of choices at the cineplex, is what kept me from seeing it in the theater) because judging by the trailers, the film didn't really pull off the experiment of having Fey play the Poehler-type role and Poehler play the Fey-type role. Admittedly, having Fey play so far against type doesn't always work in the film, as the performance sometimes feels a bit forced (Poehler, whose character is actually only about a step away from Parks and Recreation's Leslie Knope, fares better in this respect), but her chemistry with Poehler and with so many of the other performers assembled ultimately ensures that that doesn't detract from the overall product. Although it has the elements of what could amount to a three-act story structure courtesy of Kate's situation with her daughter, in which Maura has played a role that Kate does not know as the story begins and which will bring about the brief third act crisis, Sisters is the type of film where the story and the characters are really more of a casual concern designed to make the endeavor feel more traditionally "movie-ish." Sisters is more of a long, ambitious sketch at heart, setting up its premise and then unleashing its cast to make that work.

And you know what? It does. It really does. A fair bit of the humor in Sisters relies on "randomness," but as dumb and unsophisticated as comedy based in randomness can be, the constant escalation of random gags during the scenes at the party deliver some of the film's biggest laughs (I think I laughed hardest at the unexpected sight of Bobby Moynihan's character, coked up out of his gourd, walking through the background of a scene screaming while wearing a makeshift hat) - and I laughed at lot during Sisters. It's not the best film that either Fey or Poehler has ever made or will ever make (though, given that Fey has Mean Girls to her credit, and Poehler has Inside Out, both have pretty high bars set for their bests), but even if all Sisters ultimately amounts to is creating a space for a bunch of very funny people to do and say some very funny things, I'm still inclined to call it a success.


Dell said...

Juat couldn't get into this one. Then again, Poehler and Fey are generally not my cup of tea. On top of that, the gimmick of having play the role the other would usually play backfired terribly. Neither ever felt like they were comfortable. That said, there are a number of funny moments, but most of them came courtesy of the excellent supporting cast, particularly Rudolph's character and the parents of the sisters.

Norma Desmond said...

I agree that Fey didn't seem especially comfortable in her role, but I think Poehler did fine.