Monday, December 21, 2015


 3.5 / 5 

A comedy should make you laugh.  A good comedy should make you laugh a lot.  By that standard, Sisters is a very good comedy indeed.  Issues of characterization, story and plausibility are irrelevant. Sisters gets you laughing early and sustains the laughs a lot longer than most movies.

It's not an elegant movie or even a particularly classy one, but come on, if you've paid to see a movie with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler playing sisters, you're probably not expecting a sly, erudite Woody Allen comedy of cultural observations.

Maura (Poehler) is the successful, well-mannered older sister, who lives in a house that may have recently been remodeled by HGTV and has a dog named Polenta.  She believes herself superior to just about everyone, and likes to give business cards printed with motivational messages to homeless people.

Kate (Fey) is the classless, shiftless younger sister who can barely see after her own needs, much less the needs of her teenage daughter, who understandably tries to distance herself from a mother who keeps them moving from one friend's sofa to the next.

The sisters are brought together when their parents, played by Dianne Wiest and James u, decide to sell the girls' childhood home.  Mom and Dad really want them to come clean out their rooms before the new buyers move in.

Kate and Maura make their way to Orlando to comply, but they aren't happy about it.  They can't understand that their parents might have lives of their own, and they deeply object to the supercilious new home-buyers.  As they reminisce and regress in their tiny twin beds, surrounded by posters of Bono and Michael J. Fox back when they were pinup boys, Kate talks Maura into having one last party at their parents' house as a way to relive their favorite high-school days.

They round up all their old high-school friends, now well into middle age, buy up all the booze they can get their hands on, and pull out those old mix tapes, while the old pals -- all played by well-known improv comics -- come flowing in to the house.  There's lots of drinking, sex talk (especially with the nerdy-handsome new guy from just down the street, played by Ike Barinholtz, an actor who looks like no other leading man in Hollywood), and as more and more people show up, things get more and more out of hand.

That's pretty much the whole plot.  The bulk of the movie takes place at the epic party, giving different cast members each a moment to shine.  They include Maya Rudolph as Kate's angry arch-rival; Rachel Dratch as a friend who has just started realizing that middle-age is when people start getting called "old"; Bobby Moynihan as the class clown who still thinks he's the class clown; John Leguizamo as the guy who used to be the town stud and is now pretty much the town drunk; and John Cena as a brick wall of a drug dealer.

Sisters is filled wall to wall with comedy talent -- and the movie doesn't blow the chance of working with them. This isn't a cinematic version of one of those SNL sketches that's funny for the first few lines and then drags out for another 10 minutes.  It's also not the surreal farce of Fey's 30 Rock or Poehler's Parks & Recreation, where everyone exists in a skewed, sarcastic version of reality.  It's closer in tone and execution to a John Hughes movie, if Hughes had made a movie about the middle-aged, disappointed teachers at the Sixteen Candles high school.

"These people are really working a lot of their stuff out," one character observes as the party gets increasingly out of hand.  The party becomes a microcosm of all the simmering resentments, unrequieted loves and unresolved fears that began in high school and have never gone away.

But don't think that Sisters actually wants to dive in to all of that.  There is discussion about Kate's need to get her messy life on track, and about Maura's need to stop being so rigid and predictable.  But it's done in serve of setting up a joke.

If you wanted to see Sisters to watch an examination of the different ways different siblings react to life, you needed to choose a different movie.  In this movie, one sister spills hair gel all over the floor and doesn't clean it up, causing the handsome, well-built bachelor from down the street  to slip on it and land on a music-box ballerina, which gets lodged in his ... let's just say Für Elise sounds different coming from ... anyway.

Oddly, though, in spite of all the lunacy, the sisters and their friends grow on you.  They manage, momentarily, at least, to feel like real people.  The same, though, can't be said for their parents; Wiest and Brolin, two fine actors, play the mom and dad with an unexpected anger and hostility -- they don't actually like their daughters very much, but don't want to take the responsibility for the way the girls have turned out. The scenes with the parents struck me as the only truly mean-spirited ones in the movie.

Poehler and Fey keep it all working together, beautifully, giving a wide birth to their co-stars to step up and break out, even while making it clear that, at all times, that they are the stars.  The script by Paula Pell lets them be outrageous and inappropriate, but still manages to find some sitcom-style life lessons during the craziness.

Especially toward the final third, the movie starts to feel a little frenetic, as if realizing it had a perfect set up but doesn't really know what to do with it, but maintains its genial nature.  Sisters has inappropriate and embarrassing moments, but it is never itself inappropriate or embarrassing.  It's too happy for that.

Viewed 12/20/15 -- ArcLight Hollywood


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