The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"SISTERS"

Sisters

Sisters is a well-oiled comedy machine that exemplifies the merits of long-term collaboration. Stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler spent years working together on Saturday Night Live, as well as in the movie Baby Mama. They understand how to feed off each other in ways that escalate the humor of any given skit or scene. Paula Pell, who wrote the screenplay, is a longtime SNL writer with experience creating material specifically for Fey and Poehler. She knows how to blend their voices together and, just as importantly, how to devise scenarios they can run with. There's a certain craftsmanship in a project such as this, which is borne from a shared sensibility that's been carefully honed over time. As such, Sisters is a consistently funny exercise in intelligent silliness.

Poehler and Fey play Maura and Kate Ellis. Maura has always been the reserved, responsible sister. Kate is the wild one. When the women discover that their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) are selling the family home against their wishes, they decide to throw one last party there. Maura has a simple request: for once, she wants to be the one to get crazy. Kate, eager to see her sister break free for a change, cheerfully agrees to this. As parties tend to do, their shindig grows massively out of control, thanks to a drug-addled guest (Bobby Moynihan), his dealer (John Cena), and an old nemesis, Brinda (Maya Rudolph), infuriated that she didn't get an invite. Kate tries to wrestle the party back under control, while Maura pursues her romance with a local handyman named James (Ike Barinholtz).

Sisters does a very smart thing, in that it shakes up the personas of its two leads. Amy Poehler is always reliable playing an overly efficient, morally correct character, as she so brilliantly did as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation. This time, she starts off on that same note, then gets to flip the script and show a more uninhibited streak. Maura gets drunk, tries to get laid, and morphs into an out-of-control party animal. We really haven't seen Poehler do this before. She pulls it off hilariously, while maintaining the inherent likeability that has made her a star. Tina Fey, meanwhile, goes completely against type as Kate. Foul-mouthed and consistently dressed in tacky clothing, Kate is probably the least Tina Fey-ish character Tina Fey has ever played. Gone are the bookish manner and the fierce wit, replaced with a screw-it attitude and vulgar cynicism. Watching her defy her image is thrilling. Even when playing brand new notes, the actresses still exude a potent chemistry together.

Pell has given them increasingly outrageous scenes in which to explore their characters. This is one of those movies where every moment is a little edgier or crazier than the one before. The party begins with Maura and Kate doing a gleefully dorky choreographed dance routine. By the end, the house is barely salvageable. While there are plenty of jokes about sex and drugs and someone getting an uncomfortable object lodged in his backside, Sisters nonetheless grounds everything with a very traditional idea about the meaning of home. Maura and Kate recognize that selling the family abode means saying goodbye to a piece of their childhood, and they aren't entirely ready to let go. The house represents who they are, for better or worse. Moving on means accepting that they have to find their comforts in adulthood, rather than in regression into childhood. Mixing bawdiness with sentimentality allows Sisters to be goofy, but not substance-free, fun.

There are so many bits to savor, from Maura's hysterical attempt to correctly pronounce the name of her Asian manicurist, to her awkward bedroom encounter with James, to Kate's insult-laden feud with Brinda. (A throwaway line in which Kate obscenely describes the timbre of Brinda's voice was my personal biggest laugh in the movie.) The supporting players are comprised of ace comedians, including Rachel Dratch, Samantha Bee, Kate McKinnon, and Jon Glaser. They ensure that even the smallest of characters make a big impact.

If anything, Sisters suffers from a common comedy malady these days: at 118 minutes, it's a little on the long side. There are scenes that director Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) allows to run on longer than necessary. Yes, he's getting often-improvisational gold from his cast, but it occasionally comes at the expense of a tight storytelling flow. Cutting great material can be tough, so it's a mistake he can be forgiven for. Certain bits feel like DVD deleted scenes crammed in, though.

That minor issue aside, Sisters works because it offers the amazingly funny Fey and Poehler, creating a weird, wacky sibling bond that bends and contorts in all kinds of amusing ways. This is a smartly written, expertly performed comedy that offers laughs, big and small, from start to finish.

( 1/2 out of four)


Sisters is rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and for drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.


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