Directed by: Lynn Shelton.
Written by: Lynn Shelton.
Starring: Emily Blunt (Iris), Rosemarie DeWitt (Hannah), Mark Duplass (Jack).
Like her previous film, Humpday (2009), Lynn Shelton`s Your Sister`s Sister takes what could be the premise of a goofy, Hollywood comedy and finds real characters and even some truth in that premise. Humpday was about two male best friends who decide to try and make some money by making gay porn together – taking the Judd Apatow `bromance` premise to its logical conclusion. Your Sister’s Sister is about a depressed man, Jack (Mark Duplass), still reeling from the death of his brother a year prior, who accepts his best friend’s, Iris’ (Emily Blunt) offer of use of her father’s remote cabin for some time to unwind and reflect. It’s obvious from the first scene in the movie that Jack and Iris are in love with each other, but neither can bring themselves to admit it – perhaps because Iris once dated Jack’s brother, or perhaps because they are afraid of losing their best friend. When Jack arrives at the cabin, he discovers to his surprise that it is not empty – Iris’ sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is there for the same reason as he is – a chance for quiet reflection. She just broke up with her girlfriend of 7 years, and isn’t sure what to do next. After a night of drinking tequila and talking about their problems, they fall into bed together for what is one of the most awkward sex scenes in recent memory. They wake up the next day regretting the previous night – and surprised to find Iris has also shown up at the cabin. And, of course, they decide not to tell her what happened the previous night.
Now this premise could easily have been turned into a modern Hollywood comedy, full of pratfalls and sex jokes. But Shelton and her cast (who are also billed as “creative consultants” apparently because they helped develop their characters and write their dialogue) make these three characters into real, three dimensional characters. They have real chemistry together, and until the end of the movie anyway, I had no problem believing each would act the way they do.
Casting in the movie is crucial, and Shelton chose the right three actors here. Emily Blunt is one of the more lovable actresses around who directors love to cast in romantic comedies. But unlike her work in something like this year’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, here she is forced to play a real character. Yes, we know she should be with Jack, like the heroine of any romantic comedy should be with her best friend, and not the asshole she is dating. But this time, the reasons that she is drawn to Jack, and the reason she is hesitant to take that step, feel genuine. Her interactions with Jack walk that fine line, so he can never really be sure if she is flirting with him, or just being his jokey best friend. Duplass, who proves in this movie (as well as Humpday and this summer’s Safety Not Guaranteed) that he is probably an even better actor than he is a writer-director (and he’s pretty good at that too – see Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home). In some ways, his characters fit easily into the mold of overgrown man children that is currently en vogue in American comedies, but his characters somehow feel more real – that he actually has a reason for being this way, and not just because the movie requires it of him. He hides his true feelings for Iris less well than she does – he has those puppy dog eyes that sparkle a little when she looks at him. We also know he’ll never make the first move. And then there is Rosemarie DeWitt as Hannah, who is the most secretive of the bunch. If you think that perhaps this is going to be another Chasing Amy movie about a lesbian who falls for a straight guy, you’d be wrong. She has her reasons for doing what she does – which drives the movies less convincing last act. She is quieter than the other two – she sits back and observes more often than she speaks, but she is just as messed up as the other two. It is another wonderful performance by DeWitt, who is very quietly building an impressive resume.
I mentioned I had problems with the last act of the film, and indeed I do. This is a movie at its best when it feels relaxed. These characters feel natural and real, and are more convincing when they are simply talking to each other, and not forced into a plot. The first hour of the film is excellent at that – but when the revelations start pouring out in the film’s final hour, the movie loses some of that relaxed feel – and starts to feel for the first time like a more typical romantic comedy. Still, that first hour is such a joy, and even though the last half hour feels a little forced it still works for the most part. Your Sister’s Sister is worth seeing for the three excellent lead performances – and to see Shelton once again see the truth behind what could have been an easy setup. I can’t wait to see what she does next.