Sep. 05, 2012 - Issue #881: Sex 2012
Your Sister’s Sister
Directed by Lynn Shelton
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
After souring an informal memorial gathering for his brother Jack with a speech laced with lingering fraternal resentment, Tom (Mark Duplass) is taken aside by Iris (Emily Blunt), who used to be Jack's girl, and given instructions to pack a bag, hop on his bike and head out to Iris' family cottage in the San Juan Islands. He needs to get away from it all and get his head together, Iris figures, so off Tom goes. But when Tom arrives at said cottage he finds it's already inhabited by Iris' half-sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who decided to sequester herself there for a while after having left her girlfriend of seven years. Tom's a nice guy and a good listener, the pair wind up getting wasted around the kitchen table, and, on a crazy whim, they wind up in bed together, where they have really, really bad sex. Really bad. Hopefully Hannah doesn't think this is how straight people do it all the time.
And then Iris shows up and everything feels simultaneously uncomfortable and weirdly cozy. All three have a secret; Tom's is that got a huge crush on Iris and doesn't want her to know he banged her sister, no matter how badly, which is to say, briefly. So nobody leaves, everyone is more or less charming in their way and the second act of Your Sister's Sister makes for a very enjoyable woodsy getaway with funny thirtysomethings. Writer/director Lynn Shelton, whose previous film Humpday was also pleasingly unconcerned about upholding the ostensible boundaries of sexual preference, encourages a great deal of improvisation from her trio of fine actors, and the result is a string of scenes in which behaviour trumps story. While we may not feel like these characters have been particularly well developed—there's something irksome about how much of Hannah's persona seems to boil down to her being a vegan and a lesbian—we never doubt the verity of how they interact with one another.
Unfortunately Your Sister's Sister can't stay second act mode for its duration, and as it strains toward resolution the limits of Shelton's narrative design begin to show. A confrontation is forced into being, Tom goes away for a while to be alone and express his repressed anger in some vaguely manly way, while the sisters stay behind and come to terms with their own fraught feelings in a more tender, touchy-feely way. There's a truly godawful "healing" montage in which people look contemplative and Hannah starts painting again.
Duplass, the co-writer and co-director, along with his brother Jay, of films like Baghead and Cyrus, has an executive producer credit on Your Sister's Sister, and the film embodies much of what's both refreshing and frustrating about just about everything the Duplass brothers get involved with, whether directly or indirectly. "We make mainstream movies that look like indie movies," Duplass has said, and the downside of this dictum is that it uses "mainstream" as an excuse to try and cover up cliché plots with quirky premises and turns "indie" into an empty esthetic. (Fortunately Shelton doesn't suffer from the same pointless zoom spasms that the Duplass brothers typically succumb to.) There's nothing inherently wrong with courting convention if it can help you tell a good story, but what's good about Your Sister's Sister isn't story at all. It's just people. V
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