Filmmaker Lynn Shelton is a woman who had a whole host of options on the table for her after the success of her last film, the quirky indie comedy ‘Humpday’. She could have gone any number of mainstream routes (including some “For Hire” Hollywood jobs, I’m sure), but instead she decided to stay true to herself, hole up in a cabin on a small island off of the coast of Washington State with Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Mark Duplass. The end result is the charming indie romantic comedy ‘Your Sister’s Sister’, a film that manages to take a well worn premise and do something different enough with it to capture your attention. The main selling points of the flick are its superb acting by Blunt, DeWitt, and Duplass (mostly improvisational acting, in fact), along with its undeniable heart. Shelton is able to capture the many faces of a broken heart, the strong bonds of friendship, the even stronger bonds of sisterhood, and the tenderness of forgiveness. This is all done in the service of a romantic comedy, which is a bit unusual. There are only a few flaws to be found here (mainly that the film uses a plot contrivance or two, forgets to be funny in the third act, and ends on a frustratingly vague note), and they’re among a sea of positives. This is a real enjoyable flick, and one well worth your time.
Jack (Duplass) has not had a good year. In the time since his brother Tom passed away 12 months ago, he’s pretty much become a shell of his former self. By hitting the pause button on himself and his life, he’s alienated those around him, except for his best friend and Tom’s ex girlfriend Iris (Blunt). She’s concerned and wants to help him, but doesn’t know how. When he has an emotional outburst at a remembrance ceremony for Tom, Iris takes a stand and decides an intervention is needed. She sends Jack off to her father’s secluded house on an island off of their hometown in Washington State. There’s no tv, internet, etc, just a place for Jack to think and get himself going again. He initially protests, but gives in and heads there. Once he’s there though, he’s surprised to find Iris’ sister Hannah (DeWitt) already there. She’s come up on a whim to get over the end of a 7 year lesbian relationship. They bond over a night of heavy drinking and then do something they probably wouldn’t have otherwise. The next morning, Iris shows up to surprise Jack, but finds Hannah as well. This leads to a few days of bonding, surprising revelations, and emotional confessions. I’m staying a bit vague on purpose (though it’s not hard to guess the plot), since the charms of the film are in how the plot develops, not in the plot itself.
This has got to be the year of Mark Duplass, at least in terms of mostly independent film. He’s written, directed, produced, and acted in a whole host of projects so far in 2012. He’s previously appeared in the likes of ‘Darling Companion’ and ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’, with ‘People Like Us’ right on the horizon and Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ later this fall. In addition to that, he and his brother Jay wrote and directed ‘Jeff, Who Lives at Home’ a few months ago, and next month their new flick ‘The Do-Deca-Pentatholan’ is hitting theaters. He’s always struck me as a filmmaker who occasionally acts, but this year he’s done a lot to change that. Here, he’s just as good as he was in ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’, though this is a far less silly role. He handles the improv terrifically, and hints at the pain just underneath the surface of Jack with a few subtle gestures. Duplass is perfect for this role, and he knocks it out of the park. Emily Blunt is warm and quirky here, playing a good friend and sister who comes to the cabin expecting one thing and gets something very different. I’d say this is Top 5 work for her, and after another fun turn in ‘The Five Year Engagement’ earlier this year, I’m digging her comedic chops, even if this time around there’s a big dose of drama too. As for Rosemarie DeWitt, her character is a bit of a kindred soul to Jack, though far more bitter and worn down by life. She sells those traits with aplomb, and like the other two thespians, does tremendous work (she and Blunt really feel like sisters too, something you rarely see). They all have terrific chemistry with each other, partially due to the improvisational nature of the movie, but regardless, they make their characters lived in and real. Each pairing gets a great scene (a drinking scene between Jack and Hannah, as well as late night chats in bed between Jack and Iris as well as one with Iris and Hannah). The cast also includes comedian Mike Birbiglia as Tom’s college roommate, but this is all about the big three here.
Lynn Shelton has mostly shed her Mumblecore roots here (just like Duplass has in his films, oddly enough), while making sure she’s still retaining all of her strong indie sensibilities (and it can probably be argued that elements of the controversial filmmaking method are still in play here). There’s a bit less “fun” in this movie of hers, but there’s an extra sense of confidence and grace. She knows this plot has been done before, and uses her direction to differentiate the work from previous films of this ilk. Especially with her beautiful nature shots that she captures, Shelton’s direction is a real plus. Her writing is mostly a skeleton for the actors to play off of, but she sets things up well enough and moves things along in a rather unique way. Short of one or two changes I would have made, this is really good work from Shelton, and I’m eager to see where she takes her career next.
Overall, ‘Your Sister’s Sister’ is a heartfelt indie rom-com that’s got the potential to be one of the small scale success of the summer (along with ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’, which I spoke similarly of a week or so ago), and maybe even an awards player for someone in the cast. You’re constantly engaged by the trio of actors, and Lynn Shelton keeps things moving at a very nice pace. Things never get too light or too heavy, but things always remain entertaining. Buoyed by Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Mark Duplass, Shelton is able to make a real successful flick. I highly recommend checking this one out. I think you’ll like what you see quite a bit…I know that I did!
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