Wednesday, January 27, 2016
SISTERS (Jason Moore, 2015)
Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are funny, likeable performers, but they can’t appear in a film and make it golden by sheer force of personality. It feels as though that’s what is being asked of them in SISTERS, a slack comedy that wagers the audience will be tickled enough by seeing them behave irresponsibly and hearing them deliver a good one-liner every now and then. Their rambunctious dispositions shine in moments, like during their shameless, suggestive flirtation with a guy landscaping his yard and when they are confronted by an old school acquaintance they didn’t invite to their bash. Fey and Poehler’s characters, the Ellis sisters, know they possess power in the situations and aren’t ashamed to wield it with authority. SISTERS clicks when their naughty streaks emerge because they’re the aggressors and flails when the Ellises’ recklessness is like a party trick they’re called upon to impress everyone with.
Poehler plays the younger sister Maura, a divorced nurse who is preternaturally nice to seemingly everyone she encounters. Not only is she upset when her parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) inform her that she and her older sister Kate (Fey) need to return to Orlando to clean out their bedrooms because they’re selling the family home, but it’s also put upon her to share the news with her irresponsible sibling. Maura gets Kate to accompany her on a trip to Florida without providing the underlying reason. The unemployed and virtually homeless Kate is happy to get out of town. When they arrive at their childhood home, they discover that their parents have already sold it.
If the sisters have to accept that a part of their past will no longer remain in family ownership, then they intend to say goodbye with a massive final party at it. They invite old high school friends, many of whom welcome a break from domestic predictability and a chance to relive their youthful recklessness. Maura and Kate agree to switch roles from when they were teenagers, with the younger sister free to cut loose and and seduce neighbor James (Ike Barinholtz) while Kate keeps a watchful eye on her and their guests. Things get out of hand, though.
Longtime SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE writer Paula Pell’s SISTERS screenplay lacks sting. Even as it trots out some vulgarity intended for shock value, it produces less of a zap than the static discharge after rubbing one’s feet on the carpet and touching a doorknob. The mushy quality to the jokes reflects how a comedy sketch writer pressed against deadline turns to the easiest punchlines than funnier options that need more time to be worked on. The scenario is set up and resolved rather quickly, leaving an enormous amount of time devoted to the party itself. These scenes of suburbanites shedding their inhibitions seem to last forever with diminishing comedic returns.
SISTERS’ underlying message is similar to NEIGHBORS regarding coming to terms with one’s age in life, but who cares about what a film is saying when everything wrapped around it is thoroughly mediocre? Poehler and Fey emerge unscathed from the lackluster film, even though this stands as yet another deflating reminder of the uninspired state of mainstream film comedy.