Fey and Poehler get down, dirty and disarmingly funny in ‘Sisters’
‘Sisters’ review: Fey-Poehler chemistry wasted in weak comedy.
Whether they’ve been behind the news desk on television’s Saturday Night Live, hosting the Golden Globes award show, or co-starring in a hit movie (2008’s Baby Mama), these comedy sisters could do no wrong.The late critic Gene Siskel had a frequent saying when evaluating a movie with an appealing cast: “Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?” In the case of “Sisters,” the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler sibling comedy, the question is heightened: Who among us wouldn’t happily listen in on these two having lunch?In the new comedy “Sisters,” out Friday from Universal, Tina Fey plays against type, as a cosmetologist whose sister ( Amy Poehler) is far more responsible than she is.In “Sisters,” Tina Fey and Amy Poehler attempt to bring the most teenage of comedy genres __ that of keg stands and drunken hook-ups __ into middle age.
As of Dec. 16, the comment last posted on the “Sisters” message board at imdb.com carried the headline “Star Wars comes out on Friday yayyy” and the one below it predicted that “The Force Awakens” will “turn this thing into a giant flop.” Don’t space trolls have anything better to do? The multitalented and modest Burnett got candid with FOX411 about paving the way for women in the entertainment industry, her friendship with Jimmy Stewart, and coping with the loss of her daughter, Carrie.
In it, they more or less reverse the casting dynamic of Baby Mama, their last movie project together, by having Fey play Kate Ellis, the wild older sister who is dissatisfied with her personal and professional life, with Poehler as Maura Ellis, the more grounded younger sister, recently divorced but reliably responsible and generous, who lends her older sister money. Not to mention their stellar individual achievements, most notably Fey’s “30 Rock” and Poehler’s “Parks and Recreation.” Year after year, as solo talents and a team, they’ve been knocking it out of the park. Directed by Jason Moore (“Pitch Perfect”) from a script by the longtime “Saturday Night Live” writer Paula Pell, this raunchy-huggy comedy features, in keeping with Hollywood custom, a gaggle of well-known and well-liked sitcom and sketch-comedy performers being a little less funny than you want them to be. They play sibs who find out that their parents, played by Dianne Wiest and James Brolin (who also play spouses on the current TV sitcom, Life in Pieces), are selling their childhood home in the Orlando, Florida suburbs.
So it’s with no small reluctance I report “Sisters” is a depressing, overlong, repetitive slapstick disaster in which two of the most appealing stars around wallow in the muck AND the mire, figuratively and literally. While the tremendous wit and chemistry of Fey and Poehler is unquestionable, the big-screen meeting of the former “Weekend Update” hosts feels overwhelming mismatched. Also, we wanted to be more organized than a mass of videos with no particular order, so there’s a playlist and it gives a place for fans to comment on specific clips; and we’re going to add a new sketch or more every week plus bonus features; they’re kind of wonderful… some with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Bernadette Peters to name a few. If your idea of cutting-edge humor is a drugged-out, fortysomething class clown doing artwork with his genitals; a pratfall that results in a musical ballerina figurine jammed up a man’s rear end; tired stereotypes about lesbians and Korean manicurists; numerous characters making drunken fools of themselves and, yes, sisters wrestling in mud, by all means step right up and purchase a ticket.
Fey (especially but not only on “30 Rock”) as an anxious overthinker using her caustic sarcasm as a weapon against both her own insecurities and the flakes and train wrecks who surround her. By the third act, the already-overfamiliar, party-getting-out-of-hand thrust completely wears out its welcome: by then, the only audience members who still care are those who live for scenes of wanton, arbitrary material destruction – of ceilings, floors, beds, rugs, furniture, windows, doors, roof, lawn, swimming pool, you name it — with no buildup and no internal logic. Caught up in nostalgia, they decide to throw one last party, at which things go predictably awry and after which their family issues become smoothly sorted out, in the way of all glossy comedies. One of his first jobs was as the resident director of “Les Misérables,” which involved rehearsing understudies and supervising the North American companies. “I was working on a show that I knew worked, so it was like boot camp,” recalled Mr. Kate is sometimes scolded for her irresponsibility by her teenage daughter, Haley (Madison Davenport), but her real foil is her younger sister, Maura, played in full goody-two-shoes splendor by Amy Poehler.
While offering two giant talents a chance to cut loose with broader, rougher material than usual, at least for them, the jokes are cheap, the technique’s pushy and you end up waiting patiently for the end-credit bloopers. Maybe they’re not, but both are terrific at making a moment seem spontaneous — such as an early scene in which the sisters sing along to the radio, mangling most of the lyrics, or one in which Poehler’s Maura tries to casually lean against a wall, but isn’t sure what to do with her arm. In Atlanta, recently divorced nurse Maura (Poehler) is the younger sibling of unemployed beautician Kate (Fey), who has a teenage daughter (Madison Davenport) mysteriously hard to track down lately. In the early ’50s he had one called “Caesar’s Hour” and I thought ‘Wouldn’t that be fun to do sketches?’ So, when I got my show I wanted to do something like that. That includes John Leguizamo, Kate McKinnon, Rachel Dratch, Bobby Moynihan, Maya Rudolph, Samantha Bee, John Cena, Greta Lee, Madison Davenport, Jon Glaser, and Ike Barinholtz.
When Maura learns their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest, trying hard) are selling the family home in Orlando, she and Kate race to Florida — only to find a “SOLD” sign planted in the lawn, Mom and Dad already living in a condo in a senior citizens’ complex, and a nearly empty house save for their two bedrooms, which apparently haven’t been touched since the girls moved out — when, 20 years ago?? In the late going, the script takes a halfhearted stab at poignancy, but it’s far too little and far too much at the same time, and certainly far too late. Moore also got his first job working in television, directing a few episodes of “Dawson’s Creek,” thanks to his Northwestern classmate Greg Berlanti. But the folks have sold the place without consulting their daughters, and “Sisters” takes it from there, with the initially sulky, then vengeful siblings — uptight Maura and hard-partying Kate — throwing a massively destructive house party, bringing back memories and high-school faces from the old days. With a setup this flimsy to begin with – one that would sit much more comfortably and appropriately in a movie aimed at and involving teens rather than thirtysomethings, such as House Party or Project X or Can’t Hardly Wait — Sisters sets off with nowhere to go but up.
The bulk of the movie is the party thrown by Kate and Maura in their beloved childhood home — but for once, Kate will be the non-drinking “mom” who looks after everyone else, and Maura will let her freak flag fly. With their parents’ house already sold, they nostalgically sift through the relicts of their ’80s-adorned bedroom and decide to invite their old high school classmates to an old-fashioned rager at “Ellis Island.” The attendees are mostly parents that no longer know how to let loose, but a concoction of alcohol, drugs and desperation eventually unleashes a wildly freewheeling party that, naturally, spins out of control. When they were growing up — as attested to in passages from diaries they find in their old bedroom — Kate was hedonistic and adventurous, while Maura was prudent and prudish. Ike Barinholtz is Poehler’s handyman love interest and he and Poehler keep it real, or real-esque, at least until the next bout of clumsily staged slapstick. (High/low point: a music-box-up-the-bum bit that evinces winces, not laughs.) Maybe I wasn’t in the mood.
In scene after scene after scene after — well, you get the idea, these middle-aged maniacs abuse the house and the surrounding grounds in mind-numbingly uncreative fashion. There are handful of solid guests like Maya Rudolph (as Kate’s nemesis), John Cena (as a drug dealer, making his second fine comedy cameo of the year following “Trainwreck”) and John Leguizamo (as a sleazy alcoholic). Poehler and Fey seem to be having fun sexing it up a bit, wearing provocative clothing and performing dance numbers and flaunting their attractiveness more than is their usual practice. Moore, “everything changed.” Soon came “Pitch Perfect,” a surprise hit that has spawned two sequels. “When I read it, I knew it was funny for 14-year-old girls and 40-year-old gay men, which is basically what I make all of my projects for,” said Mr. Director Jason Moore (“Pitch Perfect”) clobbers each scene with frantic reaction shots (what did I just see?) and when the pathos come, they come in truckloads enough to fill a Florida sinkhole.
There’s no end to his talent so I was thrilled I was booked on “The Colbert Show” and was hoping I would get to meet him, and I was surprised when he came out and recited that poem. The movie recalls junkers such as “Due Date” and “Identity Thief,” studio comedies working on pure fumes and audience goodwill toward the marquee talent. Ultimately, the film’s biggest problem might be the one shared by just about all bad party flicks that traffic in mayhem: that the audience is painfully aware that they are watching performers who are clearly having a much better time than they are. It’s not fair to turn one misfire into a gender studies argument, especially in a year that gave us the guycentric failures “Get Hard” and “The Ridiculous 6.” But compared to so many varied and skillful female-driven hits such as “Bridesmaids,” or this summer’s “Trainwreck” and “Spy,” “Sisters” isn’t worth talking about. Gloria said ‘Well, I’m not going to get him out of here because he loves to sing.’ Gloria called me the next day and said what a wonderful time they had.
Moore said he liked throwing parties at his Chelsea apartment in part because “then I don’t have to leave.” As the technician covered his feet with a hot towel, he offered up some of his party tips. “First, I make sure it’s really crowded,” Mr. It falls into the same category as “Neighbors” or “The Night Before,” which is to say it’s uneven, generally enjoyable, self-consciously naughty and also, despite drug use and jokes about anal sex, more concerned with reassurance than transgression.
Kate reluctantly agrees to be the sober “party mom.” At first the guests glumly act their age, but then the tequila starts to flow, the music becomes loud, the joints are lit and the requisite funny stuff starts to happen. The audience learns which groups Hollywood is still willing to treat as comic stereotypes, with the usual escape clause that the stereotypes themselves are being held up for mockery. The nurse said, ‘She’s always so cheerful and smiling, and I asked her how can she be smiling?’ Carrie told the nurse ‘I’m going to decide to love my life today.’ So I do that. Unlike small-screen sitcom characters, who can change slowly over seasons or not at all, the protagonists of movie comedies must grow, learn, change and forgive.
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