Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Movie Review: Your Sister's Sister

Photo by Steven Schard/IFC Films
Mark Duplass as Jack, Emily Blunt as Iris, and Rosemarie DeWitt as Hannah
A year after his brother's death, Jack (Mark Duplass) is struggling emotionally. His best friend Iris (Emily Blunt) advises him to go to her family's isolated cabin for solitude and introspection. However, he winds up meeting Iris' sister, Hannah (Rosemarie Dewitt), who just ended a seven year relationship. Bonding over their personal pain and a bottle of tequila leads to unexpected consequences, which are complicated when Iris suddenly arrives at the cabin the next morning. This sets into motion a tale of increasingly complicated relationships which is genuinely funny or touching, in turn.

This little movie delivers a fine evening's entertainment. I think that the twenty- or thirty-something crowd will especially enjoy it. Certainly I would recommend it to either of my daughters or their friends for a pleasant diversion.


However, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that it seems incomplete as a movie, merely "fine" rather than "wonderful." I was irresistibly put in mind of John Sayles' Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980) which was a small-scale character drama. In Return, friends arrived for a reunion and we saw characterizations built, dialogue expanded, and plot driven through examining characters' connections. This seems like the ultimate result that Your Sister's Sister director Lynn Shelton was aiming for, albeit with three characters instead of Sayle's seven. I began wondering why Your Sister's Sister felt less sharp and complete.

My husband and I debated why Your Sister's Sister felt as if there wasn't enough depth and had several theories. However, I came across the best way to articulate it this morning in On Stories by C.S. Lewis.
In the sixteenth century when everyone was saying that poets (by which they meant all imaginative writers) ought "to please and instruct," Tasso made a valuable distinction. He said that the poet, as poet, was concerned solely with pleasing. But then every poet was also a man and a citizen; in that capacity he ought to, and would wish to, make his work edifying as well as pleasing.

... What this comes down to for me is that there are usually two reasons for writing an imaginative work, which may be called Author's reason and the Man's. If only one of these is present, then so far as I am concerned, the book will not be written. If the first is lacking, it can't; if the second is lacking, it shouldn't.
C.S. Lewis, essay Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to Be Said
Lewis is not saying that every imaginative work needs to be educational, but that there needs to be a bigger picture, an overall message, a deeper motivation, even if one is only telling a fairy story. For whatever reason, Shelton is satisfied simply with the "Author's reason" and, as an audience, we can tell. Issues of budget, time, and motivation aside, this is what makes Shelton's movie a "little one," as she herself said, and Beasts of the Southern Wild a visionary one that shows great promise to come in the future.

There is nothing wrong with making little movies. Woody Allen himself says that his goal is to make one little movie every year. Allen's movies are hit or miss oftentimes. What gives them the potential for the greatness they sometimes achieve is that he always has both the Author's reason and the Man's.  Whether Shelton chooses to broaden her internal vision is going to determine whether her movies remain "little" or have the potential for greatness contained within.


My final score: 3 out of 5 stars.

Ratings note: Rated R for sexual situations and strong language. Also a bottle of tequila is killed in one night, if that is an issue for any viewers.

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