Film Review – Sisters
The new Tina Fey/Amy Poehler joint Sisters accomplishes the number one thing that is required of a comedy. It is funny. Damn funny. I mean full on hard belly laugh funny. We can discuss the artistic merits of film and the depth of character or the predictability of the plot being used in new or unusual ways or whether a work advances the art form, etc. All to the higher esthetic criticisms of film do apply whether referring to popular culture or important art. No work is excused from critical dissection. But when it comes down to it, comedy can be summed up in one question: Did you laugh? And in the case of Sisters the answer is: yes, a lot.
The always welcome team of Fey and Poehler play the titular Sisters Maura and Kate Ellis. Maura is the younger and more straight laced one. As a nurse she cares for the infirmed, she will stop to offer food and shelter to a homeless guy on the street (turns out he’s just a worker on a break and not needy), she takes in shelter animals and is the type to put everyone else before herself. Kate is the older, flighty one. She can’t keep a job, has a young adult daughter with no means to support her and obviously misses her youth. When they find out that their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest who seemed to have escaped from their daily gig of playing the eldest parents on TV’s Life in Pieces to play essentially the same role in this film) are going to sell the family home it sends the sisters into a tailspin. They decide to have one last party in the empty house before it finally gets sold. Inviting as many of their High School friends as they can find, they stage one last immature rager to finally let Maura’s freak flag fly. Most of the movie details this party as things get progressively out of control.
The DNA of Saturday Night Live is all over this film. Aside from the two stars, the likes of Maya Rudolph, Chris Parnell, Rachel Dratch, and Bobby Moynihan all play memorable roles. Paula Pell, longtime writer at SNL both appears as one of the characters and wrote the fairly witty script. When the party first starts, the memory of wild youthful fun is replaced with the reality of a grown up party where people relate birth stories, complaints about aging, one guy with multiple colonoscopy stories, and parents who need to get home to relieve the babysitter. Jokes about how being a grown up kind of sucks abound. Ike Barinholtz serves as the relative straight man whom Maura is developing a crush on throughout the party. He is alternately sweet and funny in a realistic way.
This comedy does high and lowbrow well. Throwaway lines such as John Cena playing a drug dealer who flirts with Kate by telling her his safe word is “Keep Going” alternate with slapstick such as the gag featured in the trailer where Barinholtz’s character gets a music box stuck in his rectum. What really works for this movie though is pacing. It keeps the energy up. As much as Judd Apatow’s movies have some big laughs in them, they all suffer from tempo and length issues. Every one of his movies feels too long. Even Trainwreck from earlier this year, while at times hilarious and a great star turn for Amy Schumer, could’ve used some editing. This movie doesn’t suffer from that anywhere near as much. This is much closer to a Caddyshack or an Animal House where the laughs keep coming without wearing out their welcome.
The release date of this movie is unfortunate. From what I understand, a little independent movie regarding the use of space called Star Wars: The Force Awakens is coming out on the same day. Rumor has it that a few people may be going to see that one. Sisters is likely to be swallowed up in that movie’s wake. It’s too bad, because Fey and Poehler are always a welcome comedy duo, the script is at times sharp, and most importantly it gives the audience a good time. It may not be groundbreaking cinema, but it’s worth enjoying.