Review: ‘Sisters’ throws a so-so party
Amy and Tina’s guide to surviving Christmas.
“Sisters” is a movie to go out and see when you’ve run out of television to watch. Underneath the two friends’ showbiz collaborations, which have hopped from an indelible partnership on Saturday Night Live to movies like Mean Girls and Baby Mama to hosting the Golden Globes, is an unshakable bond.An occasionally funny coming-of-middle-age story, Sisters revels in its filthy side with the same glee as countless other guy-driven gross-out comedies.
There’s a fine line between a comedy where the audience is having just as much fun as the cast – Ocean’s 11 springs to mind – and one where viewers are left in the dust; I’m remembering Horrible Bosses 2.Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are Maura and Kate Ellis, the sisters of the title in what amounts to an “Animal House” for libidinous females crossed with “Risky Business” for ostensible adults. “Sisters” is strenuously vulgar, as well as studiously raunchy, and both of these eminently likable comedians want us to know that the whole silly, chaotic thing is in good fun.
As counterprogramming for those not looking for Jedi and Stormtroopers, “Sisters” reunites real-life buds Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on the big screen together for the first time since “Baby Mama” (2008). Perhaps it’s because few have walked in their shoes. “There’s been many times where I feel like Tina was the only other person I could talk to about being the star and producer and writer of your own television show on NBC,” says Poehler, who stars with Fey in the new R-rated comedy Sisters, in theaters Friday. “With two toddlers,” nods Poehler, 44. “It just felt like a meeting of two, a lot of the times. Sisters, the latest in an increasingly long line of female-centric gross-out comedies, isn’t as bad as Horrible – very few films without chipmunks in them are – but it definitely carries a vibe that says you’d be better off being cast in the movie than paying to see it. But come on, people, it’s really bad fun that’s badly directed (by Jason Moore), badly written (by Paula Pell), badly performed and bad news for anyone who cares about the quality of big-screen comedy. 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.
Marketing campaigns for the flick acknowledge that other movie opening this weekend with a YouTube video Sisters: The Farce Awakens and the hashtag #youcanseethemboth. The organizing principle of this flagrantly disorganized film is one last visit to Orlando, where the sisters grew up, just before Mom and Dad ( Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) sell the family house. They are allowed to swear more robustly than on network or basic-cable shows, to deliver sentimental speeches along with punch lines and to play with or against type as the mood suits. You can indeed see them both and if you don’t set the bar too high, Sisters’ mix of comedy and ’80s nostalgia bolstered by a strong supporting cast of SNL players (save for ultra-annoying Bobby Moynihan) could hit a sweet spot.
Their parents’ decision to sell is sad for Maura, a nurse with steady employment, but sadder still for Kate, a pitiful flake of a single mother who, due to some undisclosed character flaw, can’t hold a job or provide herself and her teenage daughter, Haley ( Madison Davenport), with a home of their own. Upon hearing the news that their parents are selling their childhood home, both go postal and vow to throw a last-gasp rager at their old address. (Cue fortysomething debauchery fueled by a delivery of obscenely named drugs from John Cena.) Yes, Sisters has the valiant task of going up against Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the box office this weekend. Written by SNL’s Paula Pell and directed by Pitch Perfect’s Jason Moore, who clearly believes more is more, Fey and Poehler play the forty-something Ellis sisters.
The sisters are devastated when they learn their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) have purged their belongings and sold the house — the home where the girls grew up — to move into a scenic retirement community. 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. But since Maura (Poehler) has long been the responsible one, she decides to get freaky and live it up, preferably with the help of hunky neighbour James (Ike Barinholtz of TV’s The Mindy Project). At one point Maura, enchanted with an amiable hunk named James ( Ike Barinholtz), plays a game where they’re both supposed to say what they’re afraid of on the count of three.
It’s then that we see them having a bit of fun and, uh, trouble as they try on a variety of cut-out dresses and fringe frocks. “The costumes there were really reworked,” Lyall laughs. Poehler recalls a precious few parties thrown at her childhood house in Burlington, Mass., where her parents still live. “I threw a couple of parties at my house. What follows is predictable, repetitious and the sheer volume of penis jokes shows that there’s no gender difference when it comes to this comedy style. The invite list includes their old high school classmates, snooty rival Brinda (Maya Rudolph), loser lothario Dave (John Leguizamo) and jokester Alex (Bobby Moynihan).
Though the party initially resembles a wake, things quickly spin out of control with the addition of drugs, alcohol, lesbians with dance music and young Asian party girls. Somebody ripped down a towel bar from my bathroom and threw a basketball at someone and they ducked and it put a dent in our cheap plywood basement doors. Maya Rudolph is amusing as the hated girl from school, Ike Barinholtz handles the role of the hunky neighbour with easy charm and John Leguizamo steals a few scenes as the stoner who never grew up. 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.
Because I’m writing so often for a living, to do more writing would make me furious,” says Fey, who is knee-deep in Season 2 of Netflix’s The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. What “Sisters” • Three stars out of four • Run time 1:58 • Rating R • Content Crude sexual content and language throughout and for drug use They don’t rule out a return one day, but “we’re happy,” Poehler says. “I’m bummed not to get to do it, because, it’s so fun but we don’t have to think of jokes over Christmas, that’s good.”
First, though, in order for “Sisters” to become a comedy rather than the somber little indie melodrama it may secretly want to be, Kate and Maura have to hold one last big bash. 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.
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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