Your Sister’s Sister
Written and Directed by Lynn Shelton
Starring Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Mark Duplass
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Running Time of 90 Minutes
Life is made up of simple and small moments, yet during these moments everything can change. Lynn Shelton examines this idea in her follow up to the 2009 feature Humpday with a film that is altogether more quiet and thoughtful. The mumblecore influence is clear thanks not only to the presence of Mark Duplass, who gives a rich and wry performance, but the naturalistic and improvised dialogue that layers and textures the piece. In fact, though Shelton is credited with the screenplay, co-stars Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mike Birbiglia are credited as “creative consultants” thanks to their off-the-cuff and free form dialogue. Improvisational techniques in a film that leans towards the dramatic can be disastrous, but the small cast is so deft and nuanced that it lends for an intimacy that few films achieve.
Ostensibly this film is a variety of scenes of Duplass, DeWitt, and Blunt talking in various rooms intermixed with beautiful Pacific Northwest landscapes. Duplass plays Jack, an emotionally “precarious at best, crippled at worst” man who escapes to his best friend’s (Blunt) cabin for the weekend. Blunt and DeWitt play Iris and Hannah, sisters. Blunt and DeWitt both give perhaps their best performances in their film as they are given the rare opportunity to break through barriers and dig deep. Talky films can become tiresome but this one never does. Each performer imbues life and soul into their work, and the three establish a warm chemistry. There are laughs that stem from recognition and nerves. As the film progresses, though, it becomes clear that it is more than just a “hang out” film. The biggest question we each face in our life is one of our own identity, and Jack, Iris, and Hannah all struggle with this.
The way that they help each other, and the way that they hurt each other is absorbing and wrenching to watch. The film unfolds with surprising maturity and frankness, yet it also isn’t afraid to show the character’s more childish behaviors. Though all three are “good” people, they make mistakes and manipulate situations when necessary. Humanity is complex and our behavior is feeble and questionable, and Your Sister’s Sister makes us question the way we treat others, the decisions we make, and most importantly our inherent (or not, in some cases) human honesty. That’s a tough act for a 90 minute film about people talking, but it mostly accomplishes it.
Your Sister’s Sister’s greatest assest is its sweetness. Despite some anger and mild betrayal, the film is brimming with sweetness. In its quiet and intimate moments we see past the facades of Jack, Iris, and Hannah and see a trio of incredibly sweet, though broken, individuals. Jack, in particular, is the glue that brings them together and despite his “crippled” nature he is as sweet as can be. In its effort to discuss the issues of honesty and identity, though, the film stumbles to the finish. Marred with an overlong and unclear montage in its final act, the film then succumbs to an ambiguous ending that is both thought provoking and maddening. It is not so much that I think the end is bad or it doesn’t work, I just grew to care about these characters and their newfound identities so much that I wish I knew how it all worked out for them. But that’s life, isn’t it?