Your Sister’s Sister

Movie Information

The Story: Character comedy-drama about a young man who accidentally finds himself thrown together with his best friend's sister in a lonely cabin, what happens between them and what happens when his best friend arrives on the scene. The Lowdown: A charming surprise and probably not the indie-type movie you're expecting. The characters are warm and likable with Mark Duplass' performance a standout.
Score:

Genre: Comedy Drama
Director: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mike Birbiglia
Rated: R

Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister is one of the pleasanter surprises I’ve had this year. It was not a film I had expected to like, nor is it a type of film I am normally drawn to. Actually, it’s fairer to say that it really didn’t turn out to be the type of film I expected. What I expected was something in the nature of the work of Mark and Jay Duplass — with a lot of shaky camerawork, seemingly arbitrary zooms and even more meandering mullygrubbing. What I got was a thoughtful, complex story with a mix of intelligently used hand-held (not shaky) camerawork and beautifully composed tripod shots emphasizing the splendid — and glorious — isolation of the setting that had something of the sense of Ingmar Bergman. That last may seem heady praise, but the visuals deserve it.

The film opens with Jack (Mark Duplass in a revelatory performance) having a kind of meltdown at memorial party given on the one-year anniversary of his brother’s death. While everyone else enthuses over what a wonderful guy the brother was, Jack goes into a near tirade about his brother’s less lovely qualities. It is this outburst that causes Jack’s best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), to suggest that Jack needs some time to himself to sort his life out. To this end, she packs him off to her family’s cottage on an island off Washington state, refusing (supposedly due to a workload) to visit him there.

What Iris doesn’t know (and what Jack doesn’t expect) is that her half-sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) has already taken over the cabin following a breakup with her longtime girlfriend. In itself, this turns into what normally would qualify as “meeting cute” — only, of course, there’s the immediate difference that Hannah is a lesbian. But the two hit it off and — over copious amounts of tequila — trade a good many confidences. With their immediate rapport, shared loneliness and the alcohol, the pair end up in bed together for some rather perfunctory sex. The problem arrives the next morning when Iris unexpectedly shows up, sending Jack into a panic that she might find out what happened. Hannah is somewhat amused and perplexed by this — much more perplexed than the audience, but maybe Hannah doesn’t go to the movies much. All this has the makings of farce, but Shelton and her cast (who improvised much of the dialogue) take it somewhere much richer — and that’s a somewhere I’ll leave to the film.

As I noted earlier, Duplass is truly a revelation here. It’s not just that he’s refreshingly against the usual male lead type. It’s that he so completely inhabits his character that you feel less like you’re watching a performance and more like you’re actually getting to know him. Nearly everything he does — including a scene where he pitches a tantrum that could have been embarrassing — feels incredibly real. Nowhere is this more evident than in what might best be described as his big scene near the film’s end. It is little short of sublime.

Some have found the film’s ending abrupt and too inconclusive, but I thought it was quite perfect. You really should see it and find out for yourself. For more on Your Sister’s Sister check out my interview with writer-director Lynn Shelton in the online edition of the Xpress. Rated R for language and some sexual content.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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59 thoughts on “Your Sister’s Sister

  1. Jeremy Dylan

    The MAD MEN cast is really getting around latley. Don Draper in FRIENDS WITH KIDS, Trudy Campbell in THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT, Lane Pryce in SHERLOCK HOLMES 2, Peggy Olson in DARLING COMPANION…

  2. bsummers

    Get over yourself Ken. Everyone knows TV was around long before your precious “movies”.

  3. Me

    Ken Tv is the new cinema according to these articles and David Edelstein.

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/movies/2010/08/mad-men-emmys-glee-avatar-television-film.html

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/01/the-big-story-is-television-the-new-cinema.html

    I personally wouldn’t go as far as to make that statement yet but the top tier programs like mentioned above and others now have film quality production and story lines. A lot of sites now rate shows after they air the way they would films when they are released in theaters.

    A lot of actors and directors are now turning to tv services like HBO, which is really not that far of a stretch just more of the tradition that people like Bergman, Lynch, and Fassbinder laid out.

    I personally love to read Jim Emersons scanners blog and his assessments of shows like Mad Men.

    http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2010/08/mad_men_how_to_direct_an_actio.html

  4. Ken Hanke

    That’s all very well if you want to follow this route. It’s not my line of country. TV — and by TV I mean serial form TV, not stand-alone offerings — has an inherent problem for me in that it’s too sprawling and too much about the writing and not the filmmaking. I leave it to those who like this sort of thing and want to follow stories or characters for weeks, months, and even years.

  5. Me

    Film making has entered the realm of TV making for a little over ten years now probably since The Sopranos i think it was Jim Emerson that pointed out some of the Fassbinder influences on a couple of episodes of Mad Men. More directors are starting to direct tv series now.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Jim Emerson that pointed out some of the Fassbinder influences on a couple of episodes of Mad Men.

    So?

    More directors are starting to direct tv series now.

    Economic considerations do not constitute a choice. This is not new. Directors in search of work have turned their hands to TV for 30-plus years. If TV is the end-all be-all medium, then why do people from TV always jump at the chance to cross over into movies?

  7. Jeremy Dylan

    If TV is the end-all be-all medium, then why do people from TV always jump at the chance to cross over into movies?

    More time and money to shoot a project is one.

    People go the other way too. Greg Mottola and Aaron Sorkin are running The Newsroom at the moment – neither of them are hurting for gigs in features.

    Jonathon Nolan created Person Of Interest after co-writing one of the highest grossing films of all time.

    Richard Curtis has continued to write television after establishing a successful feature career. Same with JJ Abrams.

    Martin Scorsese co-created Boardwalk Empire and has directed episodes of that.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Most of the people you cite are writers. And that’s a different thing altogether. TV has a great appeal to writers because it is clearly much more of a writer’s medium.

    Martin Scorsese co-created Boardwalk Empire and has directed episodes of that.

    And you’ll note that he co-created it. I’d be very surprised to see him go direct the odd episode of someone else’s show — where everything is pretty much set-in-stone after it’s been established.

    I did follow that American Horror Story show from Ryan Murphy last year. It had several problems — all of them inherent in the serial format. The further it got away from the original Murphy directed show, the less interesting it becamme. The more Murphy got away from the writing, the less interesting it became. And, for that matter, it outlived its value.

    Put it another way — given the choice between directing an episode of an established show or making your own theatrical feature, what would you choose?

  9. Ken Hanke

    Does anyone notice that there’s not one damned post on here that has anything to do with the movie supposedly under discussion?

  10. Jeremy Dylan

    Well, in my case that’s because it doesn’t open here until September.

  11. Xanadon't

    Does anyone notice that there’s not one damned post on here that has anything to do with the movie supposedly under discussion?

    Hey Ken, you seen that movie Margaret? You know, the one about the angsty teenage girl that never got released to theaters, or barely got released, or something because of some sort of legal dispute. I’m looking at an add for it right here on this page next to where you wrote a movie review for some other movie.

    Anyway, just wondering which version I should watch.

  12. Ken Hanke

    Never having seen either one, I have no idea. Watch Your Sister’s Sister instead.

  13. bsummers

    “Does anyone notice that there’s not one damned post on here that has anything to do with the movie supposedly under discussion?”

    I’m currently having a disagreement with my sister’s sister. Does that count?

  14. Edwin Arnaudin

    you seen that movie Margaret?

    Anyway, just wondering which version I should watch.

    Folks who saw the theatrical version say the 3-hour director’s cut (for which Scorsese apparently gave guidance or funded or something) is best. $28 on Amazon is the best I’ve seen for it. Maybe Orbit has a copy?

  15. Ken Hanke

    I’m currently having a disagreement with my sister’s sister. Does that count?

    Depends on the disagreement.

    • bsummers

      I’m afraid that none of that particular wax belongs to your own personal bees.

  16. Ken Hanke

    $28 on Amazon is the best I’ve seen for it.

    That’s a hefty tariff to satisfy my idle curiosity.

  17. Ken Hanke

    I’m afraid that none of that particular wax belongs to your own personal bees.

    But does it pertain to their knees?

  18. Me

    Ken these days it seems to be the opposite more movie stars are jumping to do a tv series.

    Lena Dunham went from getting a Criterion approved first film straight to directing the HBO series Girls. I noticed the other day on an old episode of Flight of the Concords that Michel Gondry had directed it and I think Spike Jonze was directing some show in England too with David Cross staring.

    Edwin wait until Margaret is released on Netflix on August 8.

  19. Ken Hanke

    Lena Dunham went from getting a Criterion approved first film straight to directing the HBO series Girls.

    Good. Perhaps I’ll never have to sit through another of her “Criterion approved” movies again.

  20. Me

    They must of seen something in Lena because the show is way better than her film.

    Also there is the just plain unexplainable James Franco doing Soup Operas and Zooey Deschanel doing broadcast tv. There is also a Charlie Kaufman series in the works with Catherine Keener.

    Lena Dunhams show was one of the funniest things on tv this year.

    http://youtu.be/Q_L52eExAHU

  21. Ken Hanke

    They must of seen something in Lena because the show is way better than her film.

    Episodes of My Mother the Car are better than Tiny Furniture. The point, however, is that her big theatrical success grossed about $391,000 and had no international release. I seriously doubt that movie producers were beating a path to her door.

    Lena Dunhams show was one of the funniest things on tv this year.

    Your sense of humor bears little relation to mine.

  22. Edwin Arnaudin

    Edwin wait until Margaret is released on Netflix on August 8.

    Thanks. That’s probably just the theatrical release, though.

    That’s a hefty tariff to satisfy my idle curiosity.

    If we all chip in $2…

  23. Ken Hanke

    If we all chip in $2…

    That’d probably get us to six bucks.

  24. Ken Hanke

    In a desperate bid to direct the conversation toward the film at hand…anybody besides me have one of those green Pyrex bowls that’s in the top photo?

  25. Xanadon't

    I’m glad you liked this film as well as you did and gave Duplass his due praise for his work in it.

    5 years ago I was browsing the shelves at TV Eye and stumbled into The Puffy Chair. I rolled the dice and was really pleasantly surprised (The Duplass Brothers haven’t yet directed a film as good as their first). I immediately took to something about Mark Duplass’ screen persona so it’s nice to see him turn in such a great performance here.

    Why anyone has trouble with the ending I’ll never understand.

  26. Ken Hanke

    Wait till you see him in Safety Not Guaranteed. One of the things that got me here is he does things — the meltdown tantrum, for example — that could have easily been cringe-worthy and they work.

    Now, about that Pyrex bowl. Yes, you know, I have the whole set of four — yellow, green, red, and blue…

  27. Me

    I wouldn’t go that far since people have compared her comedy stcomedyylings to Woody Allen.

  28. Big Al

    “…There is also a Charlie Kaufman series in the works with Catherine Keener.”

    YaY! She is my dream woman.

  29. Ken Hanke

    Well, thats a part of our taste in comedy we have in common.

    Oh, I grant that, but this is case where the people who make the claim are filled with the juice of the prune so far as I can see.

  30. Ken Hanke

    YaY! She is my dream woman

    Don’t get too excited. I think the project in question was Frank or Francis, and it seems to have collapsed.

  31. Jeremy Dylan

    I had a gander at the trailer for this. Mark Duplass strikes me as a kind of American Chris O’Dowd, which is by no means a bad thing.

  32. luluthebeast

    [b]In a desperate bid to direct the conversation toward the film at hand…anybody besides me have one of those green Pyrex bowls that’s in the top photo?[/b]

    I used to, it was my mother’s. It now resides with my brother, along with the other four bowls in the set.

    As far as the movie, well, as I live in Green Bay, who knows if it will make it here. I hope so.

  33. Ken Hanke

    I used to, it was my mother’s. It now resides with my brother, along with the other four bowls in the set.

    Mine was my mother’s, too. If I had a brother, he woulda had to fight me to get ’em. You say other four bowls. Are you including the super big flamingo-colored bowl? I’ve never considered it a part of the basic set.

  34. luluthebeast

    Yes. She had them all stacked together, so I figured they were a set. And I already had two sets of bowls at the time, so I figured he could use it more. Sometimes I’m too damn nice!

  35. Edwin Arnaudin

    What an excellent film!

    Nearly everything [Duplass] does

  36. Me

    To bring it full circle Lynn Shelton has directed episodes of Mad Men.

  37. Ken Hanke

    Which actually proves what? How does that one episode between Humpday and this movie relate to her films or filmmaking style? Or does it at all?

  38. Me

    I didn’t say it proved anything i was just mentioning the coincidence. She talked about the experience and how she loved it in her interview with Elivs Mitchell. She said her next film is going to be an ensemble piece and it will contain no drunk people having sex.

  39. Ken Hanke

    The sad thing is that episode probably paid her better than any of her movies.

    By the way, she has a cameo (as the mother who gets Jake Johnson thrown out of the football stadium) in Safety Not Guaranteed, which is opening this Friday.

  40. Jeremy Dylan

    who gets Jake Johnson thrown out of the football stadium

    You mean TV’s Jake Johnson, co-star of Fox’s NEW GIRL?

  41. Jeremy Dylan

    it will contain no drunk people having sex.
    Booooooooooo!

  42. Ken Hanke

    You mean TV’s Jake Johnson, co-star of Fox’s NEW GIRL?

    It’s a damn good thing you’re on the other side of the world. And, no, I mean Jake Johnson from 21 Jump Street — so there.

    Booooooooooo!

    It does seem a step down.

  43. Me

    Ken how come they haven’t added Safety Not Guaranteed to the roster on the website?

  44. Ken Hanke

    Beats me, but I don’t have anything to do with The Carolina’s website. This is what I got from them yesterday:

    Safety Not Guaranteed (R)
    1:00, 3:10, 5:15, 7;20, 9:35

    That’s starting Friday.

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