Your Sister's Sister
Summer’s here. Time to soak up some Vitamin D, boost your sex drive, and pounce on someone you ordinarily wouldn’t. Or, for those less adventurous, perhaps a mere artistic rendering of such experimental dalliances will suffice. To contemplate the complexities of the human heart and related organs, you might try sunbathing with John Irving’s latest novel In One Person, which gloriously traces a bisexual man’s fifty-years-worth of escapades with men, women, and transsexuals. Alternatively, you could visit Mike Bartlett’s hilarious hit Off-Broadway play Cock, which features a conflicted gay hero who dares to take a dip in the lady pond. And now onscreen, director Lynn Shelton has joined this season’s sexually confused love fest with her intermittently charming fourth film, Your Sister’s Sister. While this trifle is often engaging, don’t expect her characters to contribute much insight to the quandaries explored by Irving and Bartlett; instead of offering penetrating observations, her amiable three-hander only gives us the tip.
Jack (Mark Duplass) is an unemployed, single, lost man-child lacking a sense of purpose and direction. One year after the untimely death of his “emotionally and physically manipulative” brother Tom, he desperately needs someone to whack the ennui out of him with a blunt object. Or maybe he just needs Blunt—Emily Blunt, that is—who plays Iris, the witty and winning ex-girlfriend of his brother. Tom and Iris broke up before he died, and now she’s Jack’s best friend and his voice of reason. Sensing an imminent psychological meltdown, Iris offers Jack her father’s idyllic vacation home on a remote island in Puget Sound—a place where he can clear his head and regroup.
When Jack arrives at the house, he soon discovers that he’s not alone. Iris’ lesbian sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) has been holing up there after walking out on a seven-year relationship with her girlfriend. After a contrived meet-cute at the front door (with Hannah brandishing an oar at her intruder), the two sit down with a bottle of Tequila and share their problems. Jack and Hannah make fine drinking buddies and it isn’t long before these lubricated wounded birds begin to hatch a late-night plan. “If I were differently equipped or you were differently inclined, this night might go in a very different direction,” Jack offers. Emboldened by Jose Cuervo, Hannah giddily guides Jack into the bedroom for a night of fumbling, unsatisfying, awkward sex.
In her last film Humpday, Shelton explored straight male angst with two best friends who attempt to find a sense of self-worth through a night of homosexual sex. Just when you think that Shelton is setting herself up to be the cinematic laureate of the sexually bewildered and daring, she takes Your Sister’s Sister in a completely different direction with the unannounced arrival of Iris the next morning.
Iris’ presence jolts Jack into panic mode. He decides that Iris must never find out about the tryst, and he asks Hannah to join him in concealing the news from her sister. And so, we watch as these three likeable adults stumble through the film’s rather tedious second act behaving like teenagers. Does Jack have feelings for his best friend? Is Hannah not a lesbian after all? Given the circumstances, would it be terribly awkward if Jack dated either Iris or Hannah?
Unlike Humpday, this film is far less ambitious in scope; Shelton is not probing the straight male psyche to unearth insightful musings about sexuality, intimacy, or friendship. Duplass, Blunt, and DeWitt provide us with an appealing semi-improvised repartee, but we would fully appreciate their onscreen antics if they felt less like stereotypes (a vegan lesbian, a loveable loser, an emotionally guarded Brit) and more like fleshed out characters.
Over the course of the weekend, the sisters and Jack sort through these matters, two betrayals, and one remaining major plot point involving a discarded condom. They take long walks, pull each other into rooms to whisper about their desires, crawl into bed with one another to discuss how “empirically attractive” they are, and cry. Finally, Jack shares his big secret with Iris: “I slept with your sister and you slept with my brother,” he explains. The news devastates her because she’s finally realizing that she might love this guy. She tells Jack to go away; he rides his bike, as Vinny Smith’s dramatic score forces us to acknowledge that we are watching three characters on the brink of a gut-wrenching emotional discovery. Hannah throws one more secret into the mix, and everything gets resolved in a melodramatic kitchen face-off, which sorely lacks a sense of believability. Ultimately, this claustrophobic film feels like a very small play with few surprises and a rather limp cliffhanger ending.
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