"YOUR SISTER'S SISTER"
Written and Directed by Lynn Shelton*** (three stars)
There's a song by the English band Prefab Sprout I find myself listening to when the fall season arrives. The track is entitled "Dublin" and is a part of their 1985 album "Protest Songs." Unlike many of their more lushly orchestrated tracks, "Dublin" is a hushed, acoustic track, placing singer/songwriter Paddy MacAloon's voice and acoustic guitar front and center. What really strikes me about that song is how perfectly (at least in my mind and soul) it matches with the change of the season, the descent of the leaves, the almost muted glow of the sunshine and the increased frigidness in the air with each windy breeze. My feelings have noting to do with the lyrical content of the song but with the overall sound and presentation. What gets to me most perhaps, other than the song's mournful fade out is how MacAloon's voice, on occasion, will crack or become a tad hoarse, as if he is losing some breath before the next set of lyrics to sing. Those moments for me contain the melancholy fragility of the season. The bittersweetness that is housed in the feeling of my favorite season of the year not lasting for very long before the lengthy Midwestern winter arrives again.
I thought of that song (and also Big Star guitarist Chris Bell's equally fragile solo material) often as I watched Writer/Director Lynn Shelton's film "Your Sister's Sister," as I felt it captured that exact same sense of melancholy fragility. This is yet another cinematic love story that has pleasantly surprised me this year as it is a truly tender hearted piece. "Your Sister's Sister" is indeed an unassuming, gentle film that will not do anything to change the world but it is so emotionally and romantically true and heartfelt that I believe that you would do anything to ensure that none of our featured characters find themselves more emotionally bruised than they already are. "Your Sister's Sister," while not the kind of film that will set the box office ablaze, is indeed a lovely and delicate film that is more than deserving of your attention.
Mark Duplass stars as Jack, an unemployed thirtysomething adrift in life and lost in a depressed alcoholic haze due to the very premature death of his much beloved brother one year ago. Jack's best friend and his brother's former lover Iris (Emily Blunt) tenderly yet firmly advises him to take a sabbatical from life and drink and journey to her Father's isolated, woodland cabin.
While Jack decides to take Iris upon her offer, he is surprised to find Iris' older sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) already residing in the cabin, nursing her wounds after a painful breakup with her longtime girlfriend. After an awkward greeting and initial moments, Jack and Hannah spend a long, dark, cold night together in each other's company, fueled by confessions of their respective sad stories as well as copiously imbibed glasses of tequila, all of which leads to an impromptu act of sexual intercourse.
Complications arise with the unexpected arrival of Iris the following morning, forcing the threesome to confront all of their hidden emotions, secrets, agendas and feelings towards each other as they each begin to ponder where life will take them next, whether together or apart.
In my recent reviews of "Celeste And Jesse Forever," "Sleepwalk With Me," "Ruby Sparks," "The Five-Year Engagement" and yes again, "Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World," I expressed my surprised and most thankful sense of elation in regards to the newfound maturity contained in movie love stories and Lynn Shelton's "Your Sister's Sister" is a fine addition to that collection. While Shelton does certainly delve into the deep waters of romantic love, she raises the stakes by delving even deeper into the love that is shared between best friends and siblings, beautifully illustrating and celebrating the familial bonds that are created as well as the ones that we are born into. With that, Shelton has confidently taken what essentially is a screwball romantic comedy plot and circumstances and transfers any contrivance into a very real world populated with very real people and emotions, putting most romantic comedies to shame in the process due to their artificial emotions.
"Your Sister's Sister" feels as if it is designed to be an autumnal film. As you watch, you can feel that moist chill in the air combined with the isolated, hushed atmosphere of the wilderness as well as the warmth that is displayed between the characters, who, in their individualistic ways, are all in a state of brokenness and are each trying to piece themselves back together again. They are all existing at the conclusion of one season, if you will, in their lives, and we are witnessing the gradual and sometimes painful transition into the next season.
Mark Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt and Emily Blunt each deliver unforced, completely focused and purely empathetic performances, which make all of the relationships feel authentic. I loved how Shelton just let scenes run on and on, giving us the feeling that we are watching relationships develop and change over real time. The drunken "courtship" sequence between Jack and Hannah, for instance, is especially lengthy and effective. The longer it went on, the more satisfied I became as most movies simply do not allow their characters to live and breathe within the art of conversation. Shelton wisely lets her characters speak their minds and hearts at length, allowing us to get to know them just as they are getting to know each other. This tactic almost gave the film the quality of a documentary and the overall effect compounded the emotional urgency contained within.
As with my review of "Celeste And Jesse Forever," I must return to my initial positive feelings of having more women as creative forces within the movie industry as the overall output and diversity of material would undoubtedly benefit us all as viewers. Lynn Shelton, along with Rashida Jones ("Celeste And Jesse Forever"), Zoe Kazan ("Ruby Sparks"), Lorene Scafaria ("Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World"), as well as first class filmmakers like Writer/Director Lisa Cholodenko (2010's "The Kids Are All Right"), and Writer/Director Nicole Holofcener (2001's "Lovely And Amazing" and 2010's "Please Give" for starters), have all provided us not only with their talent but with a richer emotional palate than what we are usually given within the movies. Yes, this may be an uphill battle as out of the hundreds of films that are released during a calendar year, these films only amount to a minuscule percentage. Even so, these films are being made and these voices are having the chance to be heard and seen, despite the small theatrical widow they may be receiving. Because of that, once again, we owe it to these films and filmmakers to go out and support their work, for if they are financially successful, this would ensure that even more female writers and directors could emerge.
For now, we do have Lynn Shelton's "Your Sister's Sister," a glistening teardrop of a film I enjoyed very much. No, it is not one of the great films or even one of the best I have seen in 2012. And yes, the conclusion is indeed a bit tidier than I would have preferred. Those are minor complaints overall and should not do anything to deter you from seeing this film. Lynn Shelton completely understands the precarious nature that is contained within our closest and most meaningful relationships and has found a way to present them artfully, which makes the beauty of "Your Sister's Sister" function as something very similar to the feelings we have that accompany the sights of falling leaves or a muted yet brightly setting sun.