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Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012 07:27 pm

Sister, a film with heart

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Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt in Your Sister’s Sister.

In independent film circles, director Lynn Shelton made a bit of a splash in 2009 with Humpday, an offbeat comedy about two heterosexual male friends who face the prospect of having sex with each other after agreeing to participate in an “art film” project. Shot quickly and mostly improvised, the movie appealed to film festival audiences not only because of its offbeat subject matter, but also its seemingly organic aesthetic.

Shelton uses this template once more with much better results with her new film Your Sister’s Sister, a charming movie that contains a unique premise and proposes yet another unique family dynamic, a theme prevalent in American films as of late (see The Kids are All Right, Friends with Kids, People Like Us). The trio at the center of the film consists of Jack (Mark Duplass), a man who’s yet to get his life on track; his best friend Iris (Emily Blunt), who happens to be his late brother’s girlfriend, and her gay sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who’s in the process of healing from a relationship gone bad. The primary setting of the film is a remote cabin that’s in the women’s family, where Jack goes to get some down time, only to find Hannah there looking for some peace of her own. An embarrassed introduction between the two leads to some reckless drinking followed by the worst sex in film history, all of which develops into more awkwardness when Iris shows up unannounced. Jack wants to keep his tryst with Hannah under wraps as he’s been pining for her sister for some time, all of which leads to guarded interactions between the three over the course of a long weekend.

Shot in 12 days and largely improvised, the film has a fly-on-the-wall aesthetic that’s refreshing. Far from a pre-packaged rom-com, Sister is as organic as a movie can be. None of the performances come off as labored or affected while the story seemingly develops naturally before our eyes. There’s a lived-in quality about the central relationships that holds the film in good stead. Blunt and DeWitt interact as sisters should – embarrassing each other with old stories, engaging in a bit of passive aggressive behavior for Jack’s benefit, and hurting each other and ultimately reconciling as only siblings can. Duplass and Blunt generate a similar vibe. The easy manner in which they get along suggests a friendship has developed between them. It’s seen its share of ups and downs resulting in a relationship that can weather any storm.

This is put to the test as a turn of events threatens to destroy everything between them. The plot twist is a bit hard to swallow but the three principals run with it and their enthusiasm sells it. The solution they come up with for the quandary they face may not sit well with all viewers but it seems fitting for the sort of free-and-easy vibe Shelton creates here.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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