Friday, December 25, 2015

'Sisters' review

No duo in the world of comedy is more beloved than Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The two-time Golden Globe hosts have been absolute dynamite on the awards circuit and in the world of TV, becoming the darlings of Hollywood along the way. From their individual shows like 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, to their famed stint on Saturday Night Live, these two can do no wrong. Except when it comes to movies. Fey became the mastermind behind Mean Girls and Poehler voiced Joy in Pixar's smash hit Inside Out, but beyond that, their careers in the world of film haven't gone so well. Sisters, their long-awaited follow-up to the 2008 flop Baby Mama, hoped to change all that. Unfortunately, this just continues their cinematic cold streak. Funny in brief surges, Sisters is overlong, overstuffed and more than a bit tiresome, throwing everything into its raucous, wild concept before tossing a curveball into emotional sentimentality towards the end. There's some to like here in this Neighbors-for-40 somethings, but it needed to be more sharper and more concise. In its current state, Sisters is messy, clumsily structured and sometimes downright unlikable.

Back in high school, Kate and Maura Ellis (Fey and Poehler, respectively) were legends. Their famed Ellis Island parties became the defining events for their class, leading them to popularity and success. Years later, Kate is struggling. She can't hold down a job, her daughter wanders around from home to home, and she's nearly broke. Meanwhile, Maura has a good job and continues to be the responsible one in the family (she was deemed "Party Mom" in high school). The two sisters are brought together when they learn that their parents (played by James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) are selling the childhood home. Kate and Maura are both angry and disappointed by this, but their parents insist that nothing will change the decision. They order the two sisters to clean out their room, which leads Kate to an idea- one final Ellis Island reunion party. Maura is initially hesitant, but she eventually comes around, leading to one big party that gets out of control fast. Through the debauchery and insanity, Kate and Maura will eventually learn to grow up and move on. Y'know, the plot that they've been using in every comedy movie lately.

I could write a whole essay on the evolution of the Judd Apatow style of comedy. It's honestly pretty fascinating. What started out as a genre for people in their 20s- young, irresponsible and fueled by drugs and alcohol- has now evolved into a set of movies about immature adults realizing to grow up. Former stoner movie superstar Seth Rogen did it first with Neighbors, which he later followed up with this year's The Night Before, and now, Fey and Poehler have tackled this idea with Sisters. The duo finds significantly less success with this storyline as the film is neither as heartwarming or as funny as the other films that have utilized this theme.

Sisters runs into one major problem right off the bat- clutter. At 118 minutes, this movie quickly becomes a mess of subplots, side stories and one-off jokes with no significance to the main idea of the film. Sisters needs to be a good 20 or 30 minutes shorter, which continues to be one of the biggest problems in studio comedies today, especially in the Apatow universe. Director Jason Moore and screenwriter Paula Pell seem to just not know when enough is enough and the film drags on much longer than it ever should. There's no real sense of pacing or flow to the film- the improv spirit of the worst of today's comedies seeps into this one, making it an insufferable journey at times.

The film doesn't even seem to really realize what it is or what it's about until late in the game, and by that point, we've already been forced to meet a variety of stock characters that we simply don't care about. There's Brinda (Maya Rudolph), the high school enemy. Alex (Bobby Moynihan), the crazed weirdo who just happens to do coke at the party. Dave (John Leguizamo), the liquor store owner who's constantly trying to hook up with Kate and Maura. James (Ike Barinholtz), the guy next door who Maura is in love with. Hae-Won (Greta Lee), an Asian nail salon employee. Liz and Rob, the couple from high school that still managed to stay together through the years. And of course, the family of Kate and Maura plays a big role in the film.

There's a difference between utilizing characters effectively and uselessly trying to give them a character arc. The makers of Sisters do not know that difference. All of those characters that I rattled off have some sort of story, and a lot of them end up just being extra fat on a movie that really didn't need extra fat. Jokes run long, subplots take the movie in random directions that don't make sense, and there's so much stuff thrown up on the screen that it just becomes tediously overwhelming, a kind of comedic overload. The real question here is this- why did Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, two of the funniest and most likable comedians in Hollywood, decide that they needed all of this excessive craziness?

In my view, the amount of raunchiness and constant ridiculousness thrown up on the screen is to distract from the heart of the movie. Fey and Poehler are good in the film, but they're horribly miscast. Both actresses are pretty likable. I don't think I could ever see Fey or Poehler playing a truly villainous character. Unfortunately, both of their characters in Sisters are incredibly easy to hate. Maura is more likable by default, but she's controlling, always trying to help people who don't want her help, and she's a liar. Kate is a bad, irresponsible mother, prone to throwing temper tantrums even at the age of 45, and she does a number of questionable things over the course of the film. I guess the film is the story of the two sisters becoming more mature, but they're just not that fun to watch. The characters are grating and it takes forever for them to complete their arc. This leads to a whole different discussion about what makes a character likable in a movie, but I simply didn't enjoy Kate or Maura.

And in all honesty, this hits at a bigger problem that the movie runs into- it's just not that enjoyable. Sure, some of the jokes land. If you're going to this film looking for a pure laugh, you might have some fun. Every other gag is effective, and there are a few comedic setpieces that work pretty well (despite how outlandish it gets in the end). But when the whole basis of your movie is that two characters realize how dumb they are and change their ways, it's kinda hard to get emotionally involved with it. I simply didn't like any of the characters in this film. They're flat and uninteresting and even mildly despicable, despite the fact that the film might believe otherwise.

Sisters is an okay party movie and has some funny moments. That's pretty much all that it offers. Don't go into this looking for anything well staged or any good character pieces. This is basically a Saturday Night Live sketch with an inflated budget that goes on for an hour too long. Fey and Poehler manage to rejuvenate the film at times, but those instances are few and far between. I still have hope that these two can deliver a great Hollywood comedy someday, but Sisters is another step in the wrong direction.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                              (5.6/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Screen Rant, The Guardian, Joblo

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