EMILY BLUNT AND MARK DUPLASS IN YOUR SISTER'S SISTERSizzle and fizzle in the north woods
In Lynn Shelton's follow-up to her 2009 Humpday
she again deals with thirty-something sex and relationship issues (the three actors are 38, 36, and 29). Jack (Mark Duplass, 36) delivers a provocative, angry ramble at the wake for his dead brother. Immediately aterwards, his best friend Iris (Emily Blunt, 29) packs him off to her family retreat up in the woods to sort things out all by himself. Or so he thought. To his shock, when he gets there, late in the evening, Iris' sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt, 38) -- famous American movie name for a sister -- is in the house, getting drunk on Tequila in the wake of a breakup with her lesbian lover. Jack, who doesn't really know her, gets drunk with her, and they have sex. Alcohol and sorrow might explain this coupling, but it later turns out Hannah had a special motive of her own, which Jack is at pains to discover. More will be revealed, if you see the movie.
When Iris, who said she was going to leave Jack to his thoughts, also appears the next morning, the situation becomes even more inflammatory. It also gradually emerges that "best friends" Jack and Iris, though they've kept mum about it to everyone, perhaps even to themselves, are in love with each other. This material is at once more profound -- potentially, anyway -- and far less fun than what happens in Humpday
. Despite the presence of the now famous Emily Blunt, the lengthy, repetitious, improvisational dialogue founders more than once, perhaps partly due to the fact that the film's premise requires it to focus on nothing but these events. Aside from some vegan pancakes, which may be what I'll remember. Dreary objects Jack and Iris pretend to like, till Hannah tastes them herself and realizes they're terrible.
The trouble with Shelton's Voyage to the End of the Night is that it's all so timid. Mumbly, naturalistic talk somehow fosters that. For dialogue to be reliably powerful, economical, and sharp, people must write it, hone it, memorize it. This movie runs 90 minutes. It could easily have lost ten or fifteen.
An elderly audience struggled to an upstairs auditorium for this when I saw it. Despite all the "fucks" and foundering moments (one guy did quietly yell "boring"), they patiently sat through. How could they not? It took them too much time to get there. But they'd surely have preferred to watch Ms. Blunt in the tame, polished Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
. And in that movie, she didn't have to mumble some unconvincing explanation of why she, who doesn't resemble Rosmarie DeWitt in the least, has an English accent and her "sister" doesn't.
I can get over that -- just. But what really bothered me was that bicycles were harmed in the making of this movie, when Jack, off on a temporary walkabout deciding what to do, goes into a rage and wrecks his ten-speed. How he got back to the house isn't explained. I guess we should be happy he didn't take out his discontent on a human or a dog, but in the Northwest, land of eco-sensitivity, this willful destruction of a pollution-free transport device was painful to watch.
Rosemarie DeWitt was one of the stars of Jonathan Demme's rich, intense Rachel Getting Married
, and the comparison is painful. Your Sister's Sister
isn't bad. It's accomplished; and some of the scenes, particularly the one in which Jack and Hannah get drunk together, are compelling. Yet it seems unambitious, especially given the situations and the emotions involved. The three actors are pretty good, with the limited material they're offered -- the profane, repetitious dialogue, and the limited characters they represent -- people who seem unformed, unsophisticated, and unemployed. At the end Jack declares himself to be unemployed, but Iris's work is only vague, and Hannah's not mentioned. It's good to see Rosemarie DeWitt, who seems to be underused. Emily Blunt is fine, except for the wrong accent. Duplass is a busy fellow. Not counting the half dozen films he's directed with his brother, he's acted in 22 films, including a bunch of TV episodes and five more features since Your Sister's Sister
was shot. One of them is the current Safety Not Guaranteed
, which is a more unusual role for him and a more original film.
This is a movie not without its surprises. It's also rife with heartfelt moments, even if sometimes they're whispered in a dark bedroom and one can barely make them out. Nobody wastes any time on small talk. (It might provide variety if they did.) Things get interesting for a while. The action and words remain low key (but mostly audible), and that's fine. Your Sister's Sister
avoids melodrama. But it also avoids revelation and catharsis -- elements classic drama once provided. The ho-hum, predictable finale leaves one unsatisfied. And yet somehow Shelton has her finger on the zeitgeist. So much so that this review will probably seem fumbling and inept later when we know better where it's all going.
An IFC film, Your Sister's Sister
, written and directed by Lynn Shelton, debuted at Toronto September 2011 and went into limited US release June 15. It opens in the UK September 29.