SISTERS (2015) / by B. Roche

With the Oscar nominations on the verge of being announced, there were a lot of award-centric options available for our first movie night of 2016.  But sometimes you’ve got to laugh.  Bren and I chose to put a pin in Spotlight and check in with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

The title Sisters is actually a little misleading.  The two main characters *are* sisters, but the movie isn’t really about their relationship.  They’re good together.  They’re not good by themselves, and that’s the movie’s true subject: Dealing with your shit and moving on into adulthood.  #technicalterm

The set-up is similarly a misdirect.  Fey and Poehler’s parents are selling their childhood home and moving to a retirement community, their individual lives are a mess right now, and they’re going to move in back home until the sale is final.

The personalities of the Ellis Sisters make good use of the ways Fey and Poehler’s acting careers have evolved.  In their only other movie together, Baby Mama, (doesn’t it feel like they’ve made five movies together by now?) Tina Fey was the goody-two-shoes, and Amy Poehler was the lovable screw-up.  In Sisters, Fey is the wild child.  I don’t necessarily buy her as a troubled stylist who does haircuts out of her apartment, with a semi-estranged teen daughter.  Yet Liz Lemon’s layers of dysfunction were always fun reveals on 30 Rock.  Amy Poehler’s years of perfecting the adorably type-A Leslie Knope on Park & Recreation have actually made her the ideal optimistic leader.

But after the sisters are ensconced in the family home, they start regressing back to their teens, comparing each other’s old diary entries, and decide to throw a big house party, Facebook-inviting their old high school class.  (As a midwesterner, I related: plenty of the old school is still in town.)

This party is the true heart of the movie, and the part I liked the best.  With this illicit bash, The Ellis sisters have created an exhaust valve for themselves, their friends, and metaphorically, Generation X.  They all take advantage.  Guests revert to their high school personalities as if they’ve been waiting for someone to ask.  The wildness of the party escalates brilliantly until the house is basically destroyed and the sisters have to hurriedly fix the house and themselves.  This shouldn’t have just been the party *sequence*: the party is so funny and thematically vivid it could have been the whole movie.

Paula Pell's script is really well structured.  Little things that feel like throwaway improvs pay off later (Sink holes!  Rock climbing!  Hummel figurines!  Dep brand hair gel!).  Almost every character, no matter how insignificant has an arc:

  • John Leguizamo was the cool party guy back in high school, and Maya Rudolph was a Type-A rival.  Both of them are spinning their wheels in adulthood in different ways; their subtle coupling points a way toward happiness for both of them.
  • Bobby Moynihan starts off as an obnoxious, always-on “funny” guy; his persistence won me over and he became actually funny.  Then he relaxes and finds love with the only other person no one can understand (Greta Lee from *Girls* as nail technician Hae-Won.)
  • Diane Wiest and James Brolin play their parents.  Grandparents in a comedy are usually a lazy joke. They get to go off on a party of their own, yet have secrets and give speeches.
  • Ike Barinholtz plays a nice neighbor guy who Poehler is interested in; They have sweet and relatable banter that transitions into deep, vulnerable conversations; he even ends up with porcelain figurine in his butt and it somehow doesn’t screw up the tone of the movie.  He even gets to use his contractor skills to help Poehler and Fey fix up the house.
  • Kate McKinnon plays a butch former classmate.  At first it seems they’re just padding the marquee with cameos, but at the end she returns to help fix the house too.

Maybe that’s not Richard III, but Pell knew what she was putting in, and how to move the elements through the story.  Most modern comedies don’t take that kind of care.  I do wonder what the couple who were about to buy the house thought of everything.  (Deleted scene?)

But Jon Cena steals it as a drug dealer with an impressive drug inventory and a neck tattoo that should be on the Mt. Rushmore for neck tattoos.  He’s basically a human cliff face, and gets laughs simply by existing while Fey and other characters try to climb him.  He’s better here than in Trainwreck.  

Some Christmas action at that end felt a little pander-y.  (Which brings to mind a gripe of late.  Die Hard is a great Christmas movie. It's also a great March movie.  Any month, Die Hard’s gonna work.  Let’s take a breath on what can hitch itself to the Christmas Movie train.)  But the holidays stuff in Sisters is fine. They dance.  Looks fun.

So maybe Sisters =/= Oscars.  Some movies are very profound and artful, and I'll feel like I *have* to write about them.  Other movies are just movies.  I just saw them.  That kind of movie is still entertaining and valuable in its own way.  The struggle in Sisters is real - the struggle of all us olds wanting to be young, but getting pulled into, and even loving, our grown up responsibilities.  It made me happy that I’m on good terms with my own sisters.  And that we actually look alike.