Film Review: "YOUR SISTER'S SISTER"
Published: Thursday, June 21, 2012
Updated: Saturday, June 30, 2012 09:06
Considering her reliance on improv, her tastes for minimalist narratives, and her tendency to cast Mark Duplass, one might say that director Lynn Shelton (“HUMPDAY”) is the seminal figure of the so-called mumblecore movement. If so, her latest film “YOUR SISTER’S SISTER” represents an attempt to mature the movement: at last, static camera compositions! And real Hollywood actors, too. But no amount of off-the-cuff energy can replace the need for a good script, so it remains that Shelton’s film feels more like an acting class exercise than a work of cinema.
Her plot is certainly designed to accommodate her budget: the film is essentially whittled down to three actors (Emily Blunt, the aforementioned Duplass, and Rosemary DeWitt) and one location. And of course, because it’s an acting exercise, much of the dialogue is expository – this film is the opposite of lived-in, it feels closed-off. There is something interesting going on here, about the power dynamics of withholding emotions and how that breeds connection – Duplass’ brother, who is or was dating Blunt, passes away a year before the film begins. She’s handling it much better than Mark, so he’s attracted to her while she feels the need to send him off to a cabin to relax. There, he finds her sister (DeWitt) whose handling the breakup of her homosexual relationship much worse than Duplass is handling the loss of his brother. She becomes attracted to him, and an attempt at hilarity ensues.
There’s really nothing to commend about the film past its humanist aims; and even those are sabotaged by the showing acting and sub-soap opera level plot twists. I mean, I’m sorry, but I have to ask: am I really suppose to believe that Mark Duplass is the stud of my generation? First he’s hooking up with an impossibly hot manic pixie Gypsy girl in “DARLING COMPANION”, the he’s claiming Aubrey Plaza in “SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, and in next week’s release “PEOPLE LIKE US” he finds work as Elizabeth Bank’s fuck buddy. Now Shelton is asking me to believe he can simultaneously get Emily Blunt to fall in love with him while he turns her hot lesbian sister hetero with his irresistible charms? Would you be shocked to find out he has creative input in many of these movies?
I get that there’s an audience for this movie, though I imagine it largely exists at film festivals (where the star power and occasional laughs make it stand out against similar, weaker tales of the intertwining sex lives of financially secure white 20somethings) rather than at the multiplex. My main issue is just that the improvisation, rather than its intended effect of making things “real”, acts as a distancing effect: there are so many pauses and moments of “let-me-think-of-the-next-line” silence in Shelton’s long shots that even the most casual viewer will realize they’re watching people make things up on the spot. If you cut out all the pauses in the action jump-cut style, you’d be left with a 45-minute film – and much of that would be montages of people looking sad set to lame guitar music.
It wouldn’t be such an issue if such a style didn’t seem to be overtaking indie cinema on the hole – hell, Mark Duplass is becoming a genre in of himself, acting in 5 films released this year and directing 2. Is this the future of cinema? God, I hope not.