Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lynn Shelton's YOUR SISTER'S SISTER: Mumblecore makes a major move forward

Lynn Shelton, last heard from in 2009 with her Humpday-- the charming but poorly premised two-straight-guys-decide-to-have-sex-with-each-other-as-an-"art-project" movie --is back this week with the equally charming, but deeper and more interesting, YOUR SISTER'S SISTER, which moves grace-fully from an opening party/memorial service featuring a large cast to a movie with only three characters, in scenes that often use but two of them.

Featuring a writer/director (Ms Shelton, shown at left) and one male cast member (Mark Duplass), both known best for mumblecore success, and two top actresses (Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt) noted for their professionalism, versatility and grace, the movie that results is often surprising, immensely entertaining and oddly believable, too. Most of all, maybe, the film is a wonderful poster child for the uses of improvisation. When I see the film again (and I will), one thing I want look for is just when that improvisation is most likely occurring (often, I'd say). According to the press materials, "vast swaths of the film are completely improvised," though it is also noted that the actors used a lot of Ms Shelton's original dialog, as well. The combination proves nearly seamless, and the three leading performers play off each other beautifully.

What makes Your Sister's Sister so beguiling and sometimes quite moving is the psychology behind these characters, together with the loss that they have all recently experienced. For two of them death is involved, for the other merely a broken relationship (of course, for the party that didn't break it, the word "merely" hardly cuts it).

There are surprises upon surprises in the course of this 90-minute chat-fest, and though these are indeed surprising, they're never shocking nor unbelievable because they all come from character-based reality. Ms Shelton has created a particular situation (which I can't go into because it's a spoiler) that in other, maybe less capable, hands would have led into territory outrageous and sitcom-y. Here, it's not. Given who these characters are, it comes off as funny, all right, but real, too.

The film is somehow slight, however; I doubt you'll be bowled over and remembering the movie for days/weeks/months after. Though it deals with some heavy-duty dilemmas, it remains perfectly enjoyable light entertainment put together by a group of professionals who hit their marks reliably and often. The biggest of these Marks is the one named Duplass (above, right), who -- after his terrific job in the so-so Darling Companion, holding his own in one of the starriest ensembles of the year -- does it again as the "sex object" (sort of) needed and wanted by the two sisters for quite different reasons. Like the movie itself, Duplass is funny and real and even pretty sexy -- in his slightly schlubby manner.

Ms Blunt, above, who is wonderful again and again (from My Summer of Love, Gideon's Daughter and The Devil Wears Prada to Wind Chill, The Great Buck Howard and Young Victoria), is, uh... wonderful again. There's an honesty about her performances, coupled to her beauty and energy, that make them quite individual and special. Ms DeWitt (below, right, from Mad Men, Rachel Getting Married, and the underseen Shut Up and Sing (aka The Wedding Weekend) brings her own special quality of tentativeness to play on everything and would walk away with the movie were her co-stars not both so solidly "there."

Your Sister's Sister, from IFC Films, opens this Friday, June 15, in New York City at the IFC Center and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center; in the Los Angeles area, look for it at the Arclight Hollywood and the Landmark Theater. (It will also open simultaneously in Chicago, DC, San Francisco and Seattle -- with a national rollout to follow.)

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