Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Movie Review: Sisters (2016)



It seems that today’s subject is going to be the first in what I hope is a short-lived trend of older actors doing teenaged things for the year, what with Dirty Grandpa coming to screens in a little while. I’ve gone at length how much I really don’t like the school of comedy that says just being offensive or violent or awkward doesn’t automatically make a film funny; well, the same applies for mid-life crises. Probably the only time I’ve seen a piece of media make adults acting like teens funny was during an episode of Buffy; that was over fifteen years ago. As a result, despite my affinity for Tina Fey, even that appreciation wasn’t enough to make this film look good going by the trailer. Bear in mind that I was willing to give the milquetoast This Is Where I Leave You a chance because of Fey’s involvement; that’s how bad this looks from the off-set. Well, given only one way to find out if my pessimism once again pays off. This is Sisters.

The plot: Kate (Tina Fey) and Maura (Amy Poehler) find out that their parents (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) are selling their childhood home. Feeling dissatisfaction with their respective life paths, with Kate being recently fired and Maura being recently divorced, they decide to throw one last epic party at their old home, just like they did back in high school. What starts as a rather boring get-together quickly turns into the blow-out to end all blow-outs.

Fey and Poehler have developed such a symbiotic relationship on-screen that I could easily buy them as real-life sisters. Their comedic chemistry and timing, as a result of their tenure on Saturday Night Live and previous films like Baby Mama, is damn near perfect. However, they have gone for a The World’s End approach and swapped their usual demeanours, which would be fine if it weren’t that Poehler had to grow into it as the film went on. Her straight-man schtick got annoying fast, which is definitely an impression given by the trailer, and she also makes for a few dud lines further down the track. However, once the focal party starts to kick in, Poehler starts to even out in terms of performance (as well as dialogue) and she and Fey go back to making synchronized dynamite in their scenes together.

This is helped by how most of the rest of the cast isn’t slouching either. Wiest and Brolin get some really good moments, particularly when they have their respective freak-outs. Madison Davenport serves as the film’s official straight-man, playing the anachronistically responsible daughter Hayley, works really well when bouncing off of the mains. Maya Rudolph channels bratty teen in a mom’s body a little too perfectly as Brinda, although she also made for some fun and cheesy moments. Ike Barinholtz, shaking off his experience as a former Seltzerberg regular, is genuinely charming and has great romantic chemistry with Poehler as James. Bobby Moynihan positively steals the show as Alex, turning the usual try hard comedian who always tries to crack jokes in social situations into an absolute blast to watch. The only real sticks in the mud with the cast are John Leguizamo, because I don’t think it’s possible for the man to be on-screen and not be abrasive to watch, and John Cena. Okay, between this and Trainwreck, I really hope this trend of him just appearing in films for one-off jokes doesn’t get any bigger. Given that insipid faux-Rick Roll meme of his that’s been circulating lately, I seriously wish that “You Can’t See Me” was something that was legitimately possible.

Tina Fey’s films, the good ones at least, usually contain some pretty bizarrely accurate truths about life in the dialogue. Take Mean Girls for instance; women’s Halloween costumes make a lot more sense after hearing her take on them. This time around, it seems like writer Paula Pell wanted to take the notion that older people partying like teens is intrinsically sad and awkward (and it is) and turn it on its head. Basically, the film’s running joke is something that should be along the lines of “tee hee, old people are funny” but isn’t, thanks to its framing. The main joke is about partying 40-somethings in the frame of your standard house party film, but it isn’t shoved in the audience’s faces and made obnoxious to sit through. Instead, it presents the rationalization for why Kate and Maura want need this party to happen.

There’s a joke early on about how it looks more like a wake than a party and, in a way, that’s accurate. Every character in that house has the presence of someone who is tired and can’t shake the funk that they’re in; they all look like they have reached the point where they are officially “old”. Now, even though I’m only 20, I have already been given the crash course on why being an adult kind of sucks, as well as learning about the trials of being a parent through my own mother. All the empty inspiration quotes in the world aren’t enough to completely erase that feeling that maybe just having fun isn’t something they can be afforded anymore. In that way, all the bizarre happenings at the party are somewhat liberating to see. Whether it’s the full-blown histrionics of Kate or the quieter, more intimate moments with Maura, it all strikes a somewhat familiar and ultimately pleasant tone. Well, most of it at least; I haven’t been lucky enough to be a house party that was so good that someone decided to mate with a paint bucket… yet. It also makes the parallels between young mishaps and old mishaps feel like it has more relevance, as we see what that kind of self-inflicted freedom can result in if unchecked. It’s almost like a variant of Fight Club in that respect, about stripping away all inhibitions and just letting loose with more primal feelings when the world feels like it’s getting too close for comfort. Not that the film is idealistically all about the mischief though, as Maura rightfully gets told that being too strict isn’t the way to go either, although from a more social point of view. Basically, that annoyance from earlier feels somewhat justified now; it’s rare that the “it’s supposed to be annoying” routine actually works in a film’s favour.
All in all, this film admittedly takes a bit of time to really pick up steam. Once it does, however, it turns into a surprisingly astute and very funny look at mid-life crises and the issues of getting older that, rather than submitting to how inherently sad the core idea really is, shows why these kind of freak-outs are legitimately warranted given their daily life. The acting is surprisingly good, with Fey and Poehler being unsurprisingly great as our main duo, the writing hits a few pot holes but still rings enough humour and pathos out of the proceedings to balance things out and the music almost hits Roger/Goldberg levels of bizarrely apt in its song choices. It’s better than Point Break because this film seems to actually have a brain in its head and didn’t want to actively waste my time. Actually, that’s another good point: For being a party film, it never felt monotonous at any point. However, because this did end up annoying me in places, it ranks just below The Revenant.

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