Review: Characters offer sense of reality in ‘Your Sister’s Sister’
October 25, 2012
The opening scene of “Your Sister’s Sister” drops the audience into a well-populated gathering of 30-somethings eulogizing a friend named Tom, who died a year earlier. The memorial is upbeat as one man, Al (Mike Birbiglia), praises Tom to the skies for his unselfishness, with everyone nodding in agreement. And then Jack (Mark Duplass), Tom’s brother, chimes in with his own recollections of the deceased. Jack, loosened up by liquor, brings up the less cuddly side of Tom. Jack reassures everyone that he’s not trashing his brother, he just wants to be sure to give the full picture. “If we’re going to remember the man, let’s remember the man,” he says. Still, the mood of the room grows uneasy, and we sense a swift descent into dark material.
With that scene, writer-director Lynn Shelton shows an impressive way with misdirection. We expect “Your Sister’s Sister” to carry on with the urban setting, with a large bunch of characters; it does not. More significant, we feel Jack’s speech dragging us into an emotional gloom, into the twisted psychology of the past. Instead, we get an essentially sweet but honest look at a trio of people addressing present situations and stepping into what comes next.
Before we even leave the house where the memorial takes place, things start to change. Up steps Iris (Emily Blunt), Jack’s best friend, with an offer: her family house on an island off Seattle, where Jack can, maybe, find some comfort in the quiet and solitude. Jack hops on his bike and finds the house – and also finds Hannah (Rosemarie Dewitt), Iris’ half-sister who has unexpectedly also retreated to the house, trying to recover from her own wounds.
With two emotionally frail souls in close quarters, (and not to be overlooked, the presence again of alcohol), things get interesting quickly between Jack and Hannah. Hannah opens up about the recent break-up with her girlfriend; soon enough, she is opening herself up physically as well. Add Emily’s surprise appearance into the mix, and the house gets thick with sex, secrets, unearthed emotions.
And most of all, people acting like people. Remember how Jack promised at the memorial that he was only trying to present Tom in his fullness, the good and the bad and the odd and the inexplicable? That could well have been filmmaker Lynn Shelton talking to the audience. Her characters here seem to unfold in real time, with moments of awkwardness, lots of uncertainty and frailty, but also tenderness and intimacy. All three actors – but Blunt especially – are excellent, nearly convincing us that they are directed not by a script, but by the way adults actually talk, behave and relate.