Top critical review
Flawed but well-acted indie. 3.5 stars.
on November 14, 2012
YOUR SISTER'S SISTER is a very uneven movie that seems both very naturalistic and very self-aware at the same time. Except for the opening scene, the movie is almost entirely focused at one rustic lake house on an island off the coast of Seattle. And except for that opening scene, the movie is almost entirely peopled by just 3 characters.
In the opening scene, we see a group of friends chatting in an apartment building and handing around photos of Tom, a friend who has recently died and they are all gathered to informally eulogize. Tom's close friend, played by Mike Birbiglia (sounding just like Mike Birbiglia always sounds) begins telling of all the great characteristics Tom had. Tom is warmly toasted by all...except for his brother Jack (Mark Duplass), who has a few less than wonderful things to say about Tom. His awkward statements lead to social embarrassment, and he is mildly confronted by Iris (Emily Blunt)...who is (in a situation likely only in movies) both Jack's best friend AND Tom's ex-girlfriend. She encourages Jack, who is clearly adrift and somewhat tortured by the loss of his brother and the general malaise of his life, to take some time and spend a few days at her parent's old lake house. Just get away and think about your life. (Again, it feels very much like a movie device...in no way do you get the sense that Jack would benefit from time alone with himself, since he so clearly loathes himself.)
But he doesn't get to spend alone time, because when he arrives, he discovers the lake house is already occupied, by Iris' sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt). Hannah has ALSO come to the lake house to nurse her wounds, because her long term relationship with her girlfriend has come to an end. The two have never met, but they quickly bond over a bottle of tequila...and mild mischief and misunderstandings ensue, especially when Iris decides to take time off work and visit her buddy.
I won't tell you any more about the plot. This movie is all about the relationships between these 3 characters, and suffice it to say that more complexities are revealed. And these 3 have lots of time to lie around the house and work things out. Only in a movie would characters be able to walk away from any normal responsibilities to indulge their quest to sort out their feelings.
Writer/director Lynn Shelton has set a chain of events in motion that never for one minute feel credible. Yet at the same time, this self-aware "movie-ness" is offset by very natural, rambling dialogue. It has an improvised feel and the 3 actors, especially Duplass & DeWitt, dive into their far from perfect characters with gusto. Each has attractive qualities and each has serious weaknesses. So despite the unconvincing plot machinations...the actual conversations and interactions between these 3 characters are interesting, convincing and involving. True, these are all smart, articulate people who speak more eloquently than 99% of us...but they also occasionally struggle for words, get tripped up by their own idiocies and most movingly of all, sometimes their emotions render them speechless. When you see a character that has proven the ability to talk, talk, talk suddenly unable to articulate their feelings, that is quite effective. You root for these characters.
Duplass & DeWitt are more comfortable with the improvisational style. Blunt, who is an actress I like very much, comes off a bit more scripted and a bit less articulate...but the other characters are also more bitter, which lends itself to more witty sarcasm and self-excoriating observations.
YOUR SISTER'S SISTER is not a fast-paced movie. It is as languid as the lakeside scenery. It is likely to bore a viewer interested in lots of forward momentum. But if you're interested in some intelligent acting and a fairly engrossing interpersonal comedy/drama...you might find enough to like in Shelton's uneven but admirable work.