Your Sister’s Sister
Or, my sisters (bed) keeper
Take three superb leads, throw them into the stark outdoors, give them hidden incentives, and shoot in the modest space of 12 days. Now you pretty much know what to predict from Your Sisters Sister, the follow-up from Lynn Shelton’s Humpday (wherein she was on both directorial and writing duties), an unexpectedly sincere film about two heterosexual friends that, on paper at least, should have been crass, crude and could easily have gotten Daily Mail honchos in an uptight hissy fit. So it is a great relief (for both Shelton and those Daily Mail aficionados) that her latest release is resonant of an offset, a fiendishly simple set-up that’s at once frank, heartfelt and a masterwork of its kind. And… (Shocker!) It’s a lot more reverent than a cookie cutter Hollywood form of the same category.
The set-up shares sharp similarities with Carnage, a voyeuristic glimpse at bourgeoisie life, an uncomfortable watch that felt like one was insensitively peeking into the lives of others. Your Sisters Sister is akin to this, but minus the projectile vomit. The foundations are there though. For one thing, the wiry, largely improvised dialogue takes place in the confines of one room, the allegedly idyllic shack that we see our protagonist enter. After the death of his brother shakes up things, Jack (a hysterical Mark Duplass) is given instructions by Iris (Emma Blunt, adorable) to head to her fathers island getaway, to think things over and, you know, get some alone time. So far, so fair. Only, instead of being the tranquil respite one might expect, there’s no television, a madwoman brandishing an ore, and most bizarrely, an absence of forks.
There’s a Woody Allen-y sense of place established, an island pouring with shots of rural panorama, and a dash of love for the atmosphere. When Rosemarie DeWitt’s pro-vegan, girl-loving sister Hannah steps into the equation in a drunken night of tequila and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it unromantic, lovemaking, unease ensues. DeWitt’s remarkable turn might just kick start a more prolific set of acting gigs in something other than secondary roles, an imperfect character in a film not short of them. Iris for one covets Jack, so shortly after dating his late brother. She knows not that Jack has slept with her sister. Hannah craves a baby daddy and, one call of foul play later; the film erupts in a fit of problematic scenarios, cagey confrontations, and over all serpentine story arcs, love and laughs. A spiteful dinner skirmish comes chiefly to mind, an embarrassing “bush story” only topped by vegan sabotage. It’s a weak stress point that’s picked at persistently, mirroring a big reveal to follow.
The third-wheeler, if you will, is Mark Duplass Jack, caught between two sisters, an indeterminate man-child who willingly shares the butt of the jokes. He’s easily the utmost character to root for. There’s a chance that, if you’re not already an indie stalwart, this film won’t change that. The final sequence is laughably abrupt, more a frustrating cop-out than a playful feat of ambiguity. It’s hardly Freudian, and its one of the more puzzling titles of the year (Blunt can sure pick them with the awful-sounding Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), but you’ve got to appreciate Shelton’s determination to stick to 90 minutes of film. Moreover, it’s still a rare gem that, regrettably, little will see. For those who do though, indie hobbyists in particular, Shelton has sculpted a model of beauty from an otherwise melancholy landscape, that’s beauty extends to its top-notch cast.
One part light-hearted amusement, the other an unnerving but honest vision into the skeleton of relationships, its also gamely played by a superlative trio of acting talent. Oh, and a clash with a man and his cherry red bike is nothing short of magnificent. Whilst it ensured an award at Sundance, it’s better play will be attaining the heart of its viewers. In indie terms that is the
mother load sister load.