There is a set of filmgoers who will enjoy Sisters; they are the ones who want to watch a television sitcom that is longer, more profane and a little more dramatic than ones seen on broadcast television. Others are likely to find Jason Moore’s film tiresome, tedious and far too long.
Sisters is a tremendous waste of the comedic talent of two of the funniest ladies in show business today. Hollywood has been unable to give Tina Fey and Amy Poehler opportunities to shine in films as they have for years on television. During the last decade, the two actors have performed together and individually in a series of consistently forgettable films that have failed to impress viewers and critics. Sisters tries, perhaps a little too hard and occasionally with some success, to give the duo a fair opportunity to display their immense talent but is unable to do justice to their comedic genius. Thanks to uneven direction, poor writing and uninspired cinematography, Sisters squanders away the very talent that it seems doggedly determined to showcase.
The titular siblings, Kate (Tina Fey) and Maura Ellis (Amy Poehler), are greatly dismayed to learn that their parents, Deana (Dianne Wiest) and Bucky Ellis (James Brolin), have made the unilateral decision to sell their childhood home in Orlando and move to a condominium in a swanky retirement community. The two sisters are very different people. Maura is kind, compassionate and eager to help people. She is divorced and has a successful career as a nurse in Atlanta. The irresponsible and mercurial Kate is a beautician who finds it hard to hold down a job and even harder to manage her teenage daughter Haley (Madison Davenport). The two sisters head to Orlando to visit their parents, only to find out that the home has already been sold. They are tasked with clearing out their shared childhood apartment but instead decide to relive their childhood by throwing a wild party in the home, a couple of days before the sale is scheduled to close. Kate decides to allow Maura a chance to enjoy the party in a way she never did in her youth and takes on the role of the responsible party mom.
Veteran television writer Paula Pell’s script is predictable, repetitive and awkward. Sisters has all the traditional ingredients of a party-out-of-control movie — crude jokes, drug fueled antics, drunken misbehaviour, nostalgic wistfulness, romantic subplots and the resolution of longstanding hostilities — but is missing proper character development and genuinely funny lines. Fey and Poehler are funny only when they appear to be improvising, but unfortunately they seem so eager to grab for laughs that they forget the thinly etched characters they play. Sisters does not know when, how and where to end. It takes far too much time after the climax to finish and has about two endings too many.
The problems of direction and screenwriting notwithstanding, Sisters features truly stellar performances of both principal and supporting actors. Fey and Poehler have terrific chemistry and are supremely funny when riffing together. They play against type and clearly have fun with the roles they take on. Poehler is intensely funny and likable as the compulsively helpful Maura. Fey is brilliant as the brassy and lustful sister who enjoys flaunting her sexiness.
Sisters is clearly centred around the characters of Kate and Maura but generously accommodates supporting actors, several of whom turn in very funny performances. Bobby Moynihan is wonderful as a guy who is desperate to be funny and accidentally ingests a large amount of cocaine. John Cena uses his pumped-up masculine image very effectively to embody the role of a stoic drug dealer who becomes an object of desire for Kate. Maya Rudolph puts in a highly inspired performance as Kate’s long-time nemesis, showing the emotional and psychological make-up of her character with playful tenderness.
The many excellent performances in Sisters elevate the film but fail to make it rise above the tired party-out-of-control genre. This is sad because the gifted actors deserved to bring their abundant talents to a better film. And viewers deserved to be entertained by the same actors but in a comedy of significantly higher quality.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 3rd, 2016.
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