Thursday, January 14, 2016

Snorty Forties

Year: 2015
Director: Jason Moore
Cast: Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph
Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Hey, remember Sisters? It’s that movie that you haven’t seen yet because it came out the same day as Star Wars. Well, it happened, and the triumphant reunion of comedy soul sisters Amy Poehler and Tina Fey has commenced. Throw in newly minted comedy star John Cena, the director of Pitch Perfect, and a massive quantity of cast members hemorrhaged from Saturday Night Live, and you have a movie that couldn’t help but be funny in spit of itself. Unfortunately, it’s almost exclusively funny in spite of itself, but this is 2016. We takes what we gets.

I mean, between this and, say, Ride Along 2, it’s not exactly Sophie’s Choice.

Sisters tells the story of the Ellis sisters, Maura (Amy Poehler) and Kate (Tina Fey). Maura is a nurse who has her life together, except for the fact that she’s still reeling from a messy divorce. Kate is an abrasive screw-up with no home, no job, and a teen daughter (Madison Davenport) who gets fed up with her and has been living away from home for several months, not telling her mom where she is. Which Kate gets angsty about rather than calling the cops, because this movie was written by somebody who clearly doesn’t have children, or possibly is only vaguely aware that people tend to care about the smaller humans that grow inside them.

Anyway, the sisters find out that their parents (James Brolin and Dianne West in what might not be the laziest performances of their careers, but certainly the drunkest) are selling their childhood home and decide to throw one last house party to relive the glory days of high school. Maura hopes to let her tightly wound hair down and get with hunky neighbor James (Ike Barinholtz) while Kate is looking to forget her troubles before she has to face her sad, 30 Rock-less reality once more.


As a story, Sisters is pretty routine. Two different people learn to accept one another’s realities and face the challenges of growing up. It’s not Shakespeare. Actually… Come to think of it, it’s kind of like Taming of the Shrew. There’s nothing new under the sun, man. It gets points for going with a climax far different than the course of the movie was suggesting, but it loses those points immediately because that climax is idiotic and raises the stakes ludicrously high for a party comedy. Plus, it’s mighty embarrassing when the predictable ending you don’t go with is actually better.

As a scripted comedy, Sisters is pretty routine. There are a series of gross-out gags, somebody accidentally ingests way too much of a certain nasal narcotic, and hijinks ensue. Comedy thrives on the unexpected, and there’s a crippling drought of surprise to be found in the film’s comedic structure. And while I’m thinking about it, the denouement is as idiotic as the climax, so there’s that.

Don’t you just love movies where you can fall asleep for the final half hour and not miss anything?

As a string of gags, Sisters is not pretty routine. Betcha you weren’t expecting that. While the structure is unambitious swill, the moments where it lets the cast breathe and be themselves produce a bevy of bite-sized gags that are invariably the best thing about the movie. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are comic sweethearts for a reason, and when they can break from the script and scrounge up loose laughs, it absolutely works. Sparkling improvisations and clever line readings pepper Sisters, rendering it funnier than it really ought to be.

A lot of the film’s best comedy comes from the juxtaposition of men and women in their 40’s in a typically high school-based narrative style. You’d think those would be the entire point of the movie, but you would be wrong. Luckily, converting what should have been front and center into a sort of stunted B-story concentrates those moments into fewer but stronger nuggets. It’s like an Easter egg hunt for laughs. There might be long segments of searching, but when one appears, it’s always received with a burst of elation. Also, it is way the hell too long.

Without its cast (especially Bobby Moynihan, Maya Rudolph, and John Cena), Sisters would be lost in the dark. But it just goes to show how much the right group of people can elevate flat material. Unfortunately, that material is, necessarily, still wholly present in the film, which is why Sisters is charming but mostly a dud. Have it on in the background while you’re folding laundry or something. It’s amusing but it doesn’t demand your full attention.

TL;DR: Sisters is an unambitious comedy saved by a strong cast.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 801

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