Thursday, June 21, 2012

Your Sister's Sister: Familial Trouble in a Cloudy Paradise

Your Sister’s Sister
Written and Directed By: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Mark Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Emily Blunt
Director of Photography: Benjamin Kasulke, Editor: Nat Sanders, Production Designer: John Lavin, Original Music: Vince Smith

            Rosemarie DeWitt doesn’t need dialogue. The unconsciously beautiful actress, perhaps best recognized as the titular character of Rachel Getting Married, seems to transcend scripts with her ability to shoot her eyes across the room. She never goes for big dramatic scenes; her best moments are the way she moves the hand across the table, or fixes her hair, or simply moves in an unexpected way. Even after delivering the “big monologue” in Your Sister’s Sister, it’s the emotion registered in her face that gave me chills.

            And given that Your Sister’s Sister is mainly an improvised film (more on that later), it’s no wonder that DeWitt shines throughout this amusing and often touching comedy that sadly shoots itself in the foot (definitely more on that later). The film comes from Lynn Shelton, last seen bringing us the odd and fascinatingly fresh Humpday, which followed two best friends who dared each other to make a gay porn. Both Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister start off with premises that sound not too far from the world of Judd Apatow, but as soon as you enter them, you understand what makes her fresh.

            Your Sister’s Sister begins with a eulogy of a man who passed away a year ago, only to be interrupted by the man’s brother, Jack. Played by Mark Duplass, Jack is bitter and drunk, not because he actually hated his brother, but because he can’t let go of him. After making everyone awkward, Jack’s friend Iris (Emily Blunt) checks up on him. Iris used to date Jack’s brother, though both Jack and Iris have formed a friendship that is playful. Iris sends Jack up to her father’s cabin, an isolated location where he can free his mind and let go of the past.

            Except Jack isn’t alone; Iris’s older sister Hannah is also there, and after an awkward nude interaction (one Shelton plays to big laughs, though not obvious ones), the two bond over a bottle of whiskey. It turns out Hannah has just got out of a seven year relationship with her partner, hoping to get her own alone time. Shelton, a queer filmmaker herself, handles the fact of Hannah’s sexuality terrifically in a way few films manage to do; it weaves it into the structure of the narrative without ever calling attention to itself. It simply feels like it’s a natural part of the script, instead of forcing it into the story (something I thought the “naturalistic” but very self-conscious Weekend lacked).

            Without spoiling much, Your Sister’s Sister then becomes a very tense and very awkward comedy when Iris, Hannah, and Jack all end up at the cabin, and emotions come to the forefront. Shelton, who certainly belongs to the mumblecore generation, has talked in interviews about the improvisational format she uses (scenes are written with beginning and ends, but leaves a lot of room for openness). And she finds a beautiful craft piecing together the film’s visual language, constantly capturing the perfect reaction shot to a line, relishing in the double entendre.

            It’s a real shame though, that Your Sister’s Sister takes a bold third act twist, one that while a bit unnatural, could’ve led to some, truly poignant sequences, and then shoves them into a 10 minute montage drowned out by music (it felt even longer). This montage—stylistically different from the rest of the film—feels like a complete cop out, and Duplass’s final speech feels just as unearned (as much of Duplass’s constantly smug performance, the complete opposite of the honesty DeWitt brings). Did Shelton not know how to end her story? Did she feel pressed for time? It’s a shame how frustrated I felt by this third act, given how much I appreciate the warmth and subtlety of the friendships displayed by Shelton in most of her film. There’s such an organic vibe throughout the film, along with the visuals that capture both comedy and melancholy, that Your Sister’s Sister’s ending feels like a total trainwreck, and there’s no way around that. It’s a shame, because DeWitt is simply radiant, capturing the fear of the unknown with the flash of an eye. 

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