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Sisters | Review

What the Devil Hath Joined Together: Moore Stages a Bacchanalian Bromide

Jason Moore Sister PosterDirector Jason Moore, responsible for the sugary karaoke competition sleeper Pitch Perfect (2012), returns with sophomore studio effort Sisters, netting the delectable comedic duo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The film is basically a snugly dressed outfit for a host of talented SNL alums, starting with screenwriter Paula Pell. But the general rule of thumb still applies, meaning films starring Fey and Poehler are never as funny as the vehicles they craft explicitly for themselves (such as applauded television work in items such as “30 Rock” and “Parks and Rec”). Filled with plenty instances of adult, low-brow humor, including those general digressions into imperiled male anatomy, Pell takes a rather juvenile narrative and attempts a meaningful character portrait for her leading ladies. But Fey and Poehler are really only flailing through generalized types (i.e., responsible vs. capricious), so as entertaining as Moore’s film often is, the lasting effects are akin to an elation caused by the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup, giddy until you realize it will all come crashing down into the usual overextended mire of sentimental resolution.

Kate (Fey) and Mara (Poehler) are each at a considerable standstill in their lives, but for opposing reasons. Wild-child Kate can’t seem to keep a job in a hair salon, which has caused conflict with her daughter (Madison Davenport), who has been mysteriously hiding out somewhere all summer. When their parents (Dianne Wiest, James Brolin) announce they’ll be selling their home in Florida where the sisters grew up, they fly back home to resolve the situation. However, they’re too late, and instead decide to throw an extravagant party as a last hurrah, the kind they were famous for hosting in high-school.

Since the initial catalyst for the sisters’ rebellious, ill-conceived bash is the dismay over losing access to their childhood home, Pell’s scenario initially resembles an Americanized version of something like Olivier Assayas’ Summer Hours (2008), a film concerning a group of siblings coming together to decide the fate of their beloved, inherited property.

Extensive similarities end there, however, when the film descends into foolishness, depending on the low-fi morality play of karma boomerangs for Kate and Maura. We get broad strokes of background on these sisters in hurried moments of exposition, further enhanced by having them read aloud from each other’s highly detailed diaries from high-school. Maura, an overachiever who overlooks social cues, emotionally recuperates from her divorce by working with animals, and Kate is a hot-headed good-time gal who has a hard time keeping a job as a hair stylist, causing considerable conflict with her teenage daughter. The staleness of these foundational seeds doesn’t really seem to matter, though we can already expect to return to each one in routine succession for the final frames.

Despite its wildly over-the-top moments (shared by the likes of Bobbie Moynahan, Mya Rudolph, John Leguizamo, and John Cena), Sisters does manage to have a few cute moments, usually in quieter exchanges between Poehler and her rushed love interest with Ike Barinholtz as the conveniently available guy next door.

Concerning its two leads, Fey looks amazing but it’s hard to believe her personification of the grown-up party mom, whose antics would seem far less amusing from a commonplace adult. Poehler is the toned down force here, a reversed dynamic from their last onscreen collaboration, 2008’s Baby Mama. Both women are always amusing to watch on-screen together, but one wonders why they haven’t been in something bit more intelligent. Obviously, Moore’s film is designed to court the Bridesmaids market, featuring women who are on equal footing with men regarding confident control of their sexuality and their command of expletives. But since we don’t expect meaningful output from adult comedies featuring Fey and Poehler’s male contemporaries, perhaps that’s simply an unfair, supplemental expectation.

While their SNL colleague Rachel Dratch steals a few scenes, the most amusing performers are Greta Lee as a Korean manicurist, and the winning duo of Josh Brolin and delightful Dianne Wiest as their strained parents. The bottom line is, Sisters will make you laugh, and is a lot more endearing than its theatrical trailer suggests. Moore’s film doesn’t generate the same conversations as Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck from earlier this year, but it belongs to the same family.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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