SIFF Film Review – Your Sister’s Sister
As part of the Seattle International Film Festival’s press kickoff, we watched the festival’s opening movie, Your Sister’s Sister, directed by Lynn Shelton. I was not looking forward to it because I made the mistake of reading the IMDb summary beforehand: “Iris invites her friend Jack to stay at her family’s island getaway after the death of his brother. At their remote cabin, Jack’s drunken encounter with Hannah, Iris’ sister, kicks off a revealing stretch of days.” Honestly, there are few things they could have written to make this movie seem more unappealing to me. This description makes me think of one of those tense dramas where a small group of characters attend an event that involves lots of drinking and then they decide to “get real” and confront each other about the horrors they have inflicted on one another. A movie has to be pretty damn good for me to accept that level of confrontation willingly. (Melancholia—yes; every other Lars von Trier movie—no.) Turns out, this is not that kind of movie at all. It’s a romantic comedy in the sense that “comedy” means really freaking funny and “romantic” means love and not just sexual attraction. It is funny, meaningful, and hopeful; three words that I have not thought about a modern romantic comedy in a long time.
It does, however, start on a bit of a downer. Seattle friends Jack (Mark Duplass) and Iris (Emily Blunt) are attending a party commemorating the one-year anniversary of the death of Tom, Jack’s brother and Iris’s ex-boyfriend. Host Al (Mike Birbiglia) is in the middle of his tribute when Jack interrupts, annoyed that Tom is being portrayed as a saint. He makes some disparaging comments about his brother (that may or may not be true) and then wanders off to enjoy some drunken self-loathing. Iris follows him and stages a one-person intervention, letting him know that whatever it is he’s doing to get over Tom’s death isn’t working, and he needs to get his head together. She invites him to take some time out at her father’s place on The Island, and does what any best friend would do—ignores his excuses and sends him on his way.
Jack grabs his bike and takes a ferry out to “The Island.” (Somewhere in the San Juans, I think.) It’s dark when he gets there, and as he searches for the key, he notices that someone else is already in residence. And pretty soon that someone else notices she has a peeping Tom. They confront each other, and it turns out she is Iris’s half-sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who’s just broken up with her long-term girlfriend and has come to The Island to think. She and Jack come to an accommodation, and he retires to bed. But both have too much on their minds to sleep, and end up meeting back in the kitchen, where they consume a bottle of tequila and get to know each other a lot better, in ways that will complicate their relationships with Iris—who shows up in the morning and is delighted to see them. Other things happen (that you will have to see for yourself) and there is a lot of talking. Good talking though, not the boring kind.
There are a lot of reasons why I shouldn’t like this movie. I hate films set in Seattle because I get distracted by all the location inaccuracies, and it drives me crazy. This is a personal failing however, and should not be blamed on the film. Also, it’s always flannel shirts and beards; we do have stores here that sell other stuff, including razors. I’m just saying. But mostly, I wished the filmmakers would’ve made Jack more desirable as a romantic lead. Both women appear to be successful and Jack is an unemployed, emotional mess. The economy sucks right now, so employment should not necessarily be a deal-breaker (and men are not money objects), but most people are more interesting when they have something to do with their time—paid or not. Jack appears to make a hobby of being drunk and charming in his downtime (all the time), and I would have found him more believable as a love interest if he had something going for him other than that he’s a fun guy. But, Mark Duplass is very good in this role, and never makes Jack seem out-and-out pathetic, so I can live with it.
In real life I am often given to hyperbole, but I try to restrain myself somewhat when writing—you know, just to make it believable. So, I’m not going to give you any nonsense about Lynn Shelton being the savior of romantic comedies or anything. But I really enjoyed this movie; the acting, direction, and dialogue all completely worked for me. (There is one plot point that seemed slightly outlandish, but whatever.) Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt give realistic portrayals of the complications of sisterly love, and really, love is what this movie is all about. All the different kinds of love that people can have for one another are shown in a way that is both humorous and believable. When so many people on screen are brought together for silly or base reasons, it’s nice to see a film that understands that friendship and forgiveness are just as important as familial bonds or sexual attraction.
Final Grade: A