Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Your Sister's Sister

Just the Three of Us

Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister is the rare beast. It's simple, it's predictable, it's small-scale. And yet... there is such an overabundance of charm, humour and emotional honesty that it's very difficult to begrudge it. It's the rare romantic comedy / relationship drama that shouldn't fill potential viewers with dread.

The film begins with Jack (Mark Duplass, back with Shelton after the underappreciated Humpday) and Iris (Emily Blunt) attending a one year anniversary memorial shindig for Jack's brother and Iris' ex. After an emotional outburst, it's abundantly clear Jack hasn't yet adjusted to his brother's death, so Iris suggests he spends sometime in her father's island cottage. Jack agrees to some alone time, but is surprised to discover Iris' lesbian sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has also travelled to the house to seek emotional solitude (having just endured a rough break-up). A few glasses of tequila later and the two end up sleeping together in a painfully awkward and hilariously brief sex scene. When Iris unexpectedly arrives the next morning, a terrified Jack and a hungover Hannah decide to cover up their two-minute stand. But as Iris' true feelings towards Jack are revealed, the lie slowly eats away at the isolated trio.

Being perfectly honest, Your Sister's Sister plays out in a manner not entirely divorced from your average rom-com - a basic synopsis does not lie in this case. The story structure and narrative beats are identical to countless films past. But the three characters are so terrifically realised that you'll be fully drawn into their plight. You want all of them to resolve their issues and wind up happy-ever-after, which is a testament to the wonderful performances. Credited as 'creative consultants' on the project, their semi-improvised exchanges sparkle with emotional subtlety and perfect comic timing. The way they interact with each other is fully credible and extremely engaging. The subtle ways in which their fully formed backgrounds interplay is a delight.

This is a very funny film - Duplass particularly shows a flair for comic timing (surely honed over his equally impressive directorial efforts with his brother Jay). Yet the emotional heft of the film will surprise you. DeWitt remains straight-faced throughout, but there's a quiet frustration and suppression inherent in her every action. Duplass' wackier moments are countered by a few truly heartbreaking moments throughout. And Blunt, in perhaps the least interesting role, still brings her distinct British charm in excess. Without their sterling efforts, this film would be in danger of lacking in character. But they bring their A-game, and the results are hugely impressive.

Shelton, meanwhile, stays relatively quiet behind the camera. With more traditional, static compositions than her mumblecore past might suggest (in a Q&A afterwards, she seemed keen to distance the film from her and her friends' older movies) it isn't a showy movie by any stretch. Yet it's the situations that ultimately matter here, and the camera is tightly focused on Mark, Hannah and Iris throughout. Thoughtfully naturalistic, effortlessly heart-warming, refreshingly honest and reliably hilarious: Your Sister's Sister is a humble film that packs a big punch.

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