Editor’s note: With Your Sister’s Sister beginning its limited roll-out this week, we thought it best to re-run Robert Levin’s sterling Sundance review of the film, already a Reject favorite. This review was originally published on January 28, 2012.
Your Sister’s Sister is perhaps the most high-concept movie I saw at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but it’s also one of the funniest and most heartfelt. Sometimes, a precise, discernible pitch really does have potential. And after this film and Humpday (in which two straight male friends decide to make an amateur porn film together), writer-director Lynn Shelton is fast establishing herself as one of the independent film world’s masters of such fare.
Her new picture parallels pensive shots of the pristine, misty splendor of the Pacific Northwest with the story of three lonely, likable locals who are searching for happiness. Mark Duplass stars as the directionless Jack, struggling to cope with the recent death of his brother. Emily Blunt plays Jack’s best friend Iris, who is also his brother’s former girlfriend. To clear his head, she offers him the run of her family’s vacation home on a picturesque island off the Washington coast. Iris’s half-sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is already there, though, looking to escape a trauma of her own: the end of a seven-year relationship. A drunken night with Jack leads to hilariously awkward sex and, eventually, serious consequences when Iris unexpectedly shows up the next day.
On its simplest level, the movie offers the chance to hang out with enormously appealing characters imbued with three-dimensional vibrancy by the terrific actors. As this is a slow-building, deceptively low-key film, with a narrative that doesn’t rely on grandiose revelations or over-the-top dramatics, spending time with these characters must be a pleasure, not a chore. The cast pulls it off: Duplass is more likable than he’s even been, Blunt exudes kindheartedness, and DeWitt adds a quieter, soulful sadness to the mix.
They master Shelton’s clear-eyed naturalistic dialogue, which has a way of cutting through the fat in a scene and getting at its emotional truth in serious, sincere and funny ways. Gradually, it becomes apparent that the film is structured around a clever and sensible quasi-twist, which I won’t specify here, but even then Shelton is primarily focused on developing her characters in a meaningful fashion.
In some ways this is an archetypal Sundance film, but it’s such a grounded enterprise that you forgive it some clichés. It’s easy to emotionally invest in these three actors, who play such openhearted, relatable people, and Shelton looks at the construction of the threesome’s offbeat bond with the patience and smarts of a filmmaker who trusts her actors to communicate what needs to be communicated. What ultimately emerges, then, is a hopeful, upbeat film about people finding comfort and strength in their loved ones, a rare feel-good movie that truly earns that designation.
The Upside: The movie is authentically funny and sad, starring three appealing actors playing likable people.
The Downside: It’s a bit too minor to leave a standout, lasting impact.
On the Side: The movie, which will be released later this year by IFC Films, is one of the best 5 of the 20-plus films I saw at Sundance.