Previously on Movie Curiosities, I reviewed a wonderful little film called Safety Not Guaranteed (if you still haven’t seen that film yet, fucking go). It was a fantastic movie, due in no small part to a great performance from co-star Mark Duplass. So imagine my surprise to find that Duplass has yet another good film in arthouse theaters right now.
This one comes from director Lynn Shelton, who had previously collaborated with Duplass on Humpday. In case you missed it (not that I blame you, I haven’t seen it either), that movie was about two straight men who star together in a gay amateur porn film. And reportedly, the dialogue on that film was mostly improvised.
This context is important for Your Sister’s Sister, which is another movie that deals heavily with the issue of sexuality. And sure enough, stars Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, and Rosemarie DeWitt were all credited as “creative consultants” to confirm that the screenplay was heavily affected by their improvisation on set. Hell, stand-up comic Mike Birbiglia has a role for all of one scene in this picture, and even he got listed as a “creative consultant.”
Anyway, the story begins with Jack (Duplass), whom we meet on the one-year anniversary of his brother’s death. Despite his best efforts to the contrary, it’s obvious that Jack never really recovered from the loss. He’s socially withdrawn, he’s bitter, and he’s hesitant about finding a job or meeting new people because who would want to see him like this?
Enter Iris (Blunt), formerly the brother’s ex-girlfriend and currently Jack’s best friend. Her dad keeps a remote cabin on some island off the Washington coast, and she insists that Jack stay there for a time to clear his head. So Jack goes there, only to find Iris’ beloved older half-sister.
Hannah (DeWitt) is a lesbian who has unexpectedly come to the same cabin after walking out on a nine-year relationship. Hannah and Jack meet, they get to talking, and they vent their respective emotional difficulties over a bottle of tequila. Finally, the both of them get drunk enough to circumvent Hannah’s sexual leanings, and the two of them hook up.
The next morning, to everyone’s surprise, Iris comes to join them at the cabin. Awkwardness, drama, and hilarity ensue.
In case it wasn’t already clear, this movie is all about the characters’ relationships, the characters’ emotional baggage, and how the two are interconnected. Jack is coping with his brother’s death, Hannah is grappling with the emotional fallout of her breakup, Iris has to deal with the Hannah/Jack tryst when she inevitably finds out, and all three of them have to sort through their feelings for each other.
The characters hurt each other a great deal in this movie, but the pain stems entirely from their mutual affection. Moreover, it’s shown time and again that none of them are capable of helping themselves. It’s only through communication and shared support that these characters can heal each other and repair the damage done to their relationships. Sometimes, they even make confessions that lead to novel and profound breakthroughs that take the character development arcs in some surprising new direction.
I realize that all of this may sound cliche, but it’s honestly effective to a huge degree. The reason why is simple: It’s sincere. Everything about this film feels authentic. The movie does a spectacular job at selling the illusion that these are real people with real problems, coping with their flaws in ways that feel organic. I expect that the improvised dialogue helped a great deal in this regard, since the lines are delivered in a way that feels remarkably natural.
The comedy in this film also does a lot to make the characters endearing. The humor in this film is very witty, very sharp, and very self-deprecating. Again, the skilled improv really pays off here, because none of the jokes feel like they were written by someone at a keyboard. They feel like off-the-cuff remarks delivered by very clever, very funny people. You know, the kind of people who are always fun to be around.
Mark Duplass does a fine job of playing a guy who’s very sweet and charming, underneath all of the emotional instability. More importantly, he and Emily Blunt are quite believable as a pair of long-time friends who know each other inside and out. Speaking of which, despite my previous apathy about Blunt, this movie succeeded in converting me. She’s wonderful in this movie, and even if her native UK accent doesn’t make a whole lot of sense here, Blunt otherwise played her character so well that I don’t really care. As for Rosemarie DeWitt, I’m sorry to say that I’d never seen or heard of her before now. It disappoints me to see that she hasn’t been getting much work, because Hannah is a very dynamic character and DeWitt plays her exceptionally well.
Regarding sound, I was rather fond of the score. It’s quite percussive in spots, but with various bells and chimes in place of drums. I suspect that the “angry windchime” sound might put off some viewers, but I appreciated the unorthodox approach. And besides, it certainly did the job of conveying emotions as required by the scenes.
I will grudgingly admit that the film’s pacing falters in a few places. That said, I still have to tip my hat toward the editor of this film, who stitched together a coherent 90-minute movie from what must have been countless hours of footage. And anyway, at least the movie offers some beautiful shots of the Pacific Northwest to serve as B-roll footage.
I could keep going on about why Your Sister’s Sister is a wonderful film, but it all comes back to the characters. This movie succeeds at making me feel like I’ve met someone, and that’s the highest compliment I could pay to any intimate character drama such as this one. The characters are all written and performed in a way that oozes authenticity and sincerity, which does a lot to make them and their growth appear real. The comedy is very funny, the romance is heartfelt, and the drama is emotionally gripping, all because the trio of lead characters are that strong.
It’s a wonderfully creative movie that will have you laughing and crying in equal measure. Highly recommended.