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From The DVD Shelf: Your Sister’s Sister (2011)

I have been really enjoying, recently, the work of Mark Duplass, both in front of and behind the camera.  As a writer/director, working with his brother Jay Duplass, he’s helmed some great films.  I thought Cyrus was good (click here for my review) and I thought Jeff, Who Lives at Home was spectacular (click here for my review).  I’ve also been very impressed with Mr. Duplass as an actor, in films like Greenberg and Zero Dark Thirty, but particularly in the wonderful Safety Not Guaranteed (click here for my review).  And so I was drawn to check out the indie film Your Sister’s Sister, also starring Rosemarie DeWitt and Emily Blunt.  I love all three performers, so I was interested to see what this film was all about.

The film starts in an uncomfortable place.  We see a group of friends gathering to remember someone who had died, a year previously.  When Jack (Mark Duplass) makes a bit of an angry mess of things, we understand that it’s his brother who they are remembering.  His friend Iris (Emily Blunt) strongly suggests that he take some time to get ahold of himself and try to find a way to move forward, and she offers to let her stay at her family’s isolated cabin.  When Jack arrives, he’s startled to find someone already there: Iris’ sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt).  Jack is clearly in love with Iris — or at least, strongly attracted to her — a situation complicated by the fact that she is his dead brother’s former girlfriend.  Things get even more complicated when, that first night in the cabin, Jack and Hannah — both drunk and lonely — sleep with one another.  When Iris arrives unexpectedly the next morning, surprising both Jack and Hannah, things come to a head.

Written and directed by Lynn Shelton, Your Sister’s Sister is a wrenching-at-times character study of these three people, each of whom is somewhat broken and lonely.  The film elapses over the course of just a few days, mostly time spent by the three together in the cabin.  It is extremely awkward and painful at times.  I was immediately rooting for Jack and Iris to find a happy ending together, and it’s tough watching them seem to drift further and further apart as the film progresses.

The central situation of the film — the complex romantic entanglement between the three characters — seems a little far-fetched and almost sitcom-y, but the film treats the story incredibly seriously.  As a result, the film has a naturalistic, honest feeling.  That set-up could have been the start of a farcical film filled with goofy mis-understandings and one-liners, but Your Sister’s Sister is not that kind of film at all.  This is a deeply-felt, emotional film, a character-study that takes a deep, unflinching look at each of these three characters.  As much as it made me squirm at times watching it, I was very taken by it.

All three performers are very strong, and have a wonderful rapport with one another.  The film is centered on our basically watching the three of them sit and talk for the entire movie, so it would have failed had all three not been great.  These are not hugely likable characters (particularly Jack and Hannah — Iris comes off as more of an innocent), but the actors compel us to empathize with them.  The film is filled with a lot of little moments that have stuck with me, moments not of big plot developments but rather small character beats created by these performers (with Ms. Shelton’s steady hand at the helm).  I’m thinking particularly of the sisterly way Iris and Hannah sometimes share a bed, and the moment late in the film when that changes.

This is a weird movie, and I suppose there are some who might not buy into the various convoluted romantic entanglements that set the story in motion.  If you’re willing to go with the scenario, I think you will find yourself, as I was, engaged by these characters and their struggles.  Your Sister’s Sister is dramatic without being a Drama, and has some funny moments without being a Comedy.  This is a small-scale, slice-of-life film.  I quite enjoyed it.

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