Director Lynn Shelton and her Humpday collaborator Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed) follow the ‘mumblecore’ aesthetic once more with their latest endeavor, Your Sister’s Sister. Characterized by naturalistic actors and locations, a loose sketch script, and generally independent budgets, the ‘mumblecore’ filmmaking scene has taken leaps and bounds into the limelight in the past few years.
Duplass and his brother Jay have written, directed, and produced several films that fall into the relatively new style, usually with unknown actors – The Puffy Chair, and Baghead. With the more recent Cyrus and Jeff Who Lives At Home, the brothers accepted A-list actors John C. Reily (Carnage) and Jason Segel (The Muppets) into the fold -- a move that opened doors to financing pet projects.
One such project happens to feature more big name actors, Emily Blunt (The Five-Year Engagement) and Rosemarie DeWitt (Mad Men). Written and directed by Shelton, Your Sister’s Sister stemmed from an idea by Duplass. Rather than using unknowns, Shelton chose Blunt and DeWitt to portray the titular sisters.
Though Duplass frequently uses improvisation in his films, his costars were thrown into a new way of acting. Though Shelton wrote a spec plot and character studies, she let her actors run with the dialogue and craft their own backstories. Over the course of 12 days, the cast and a small, tight-knit crew filmed in the Pacific Northwest. Together, the team brought Shelton’s raw and awkwardly funny story to life.
Your Sister’s Sister begins when Jack, on the verge of a breakdown, drunkenly ruins his brother Tom’s memorial. Iris, Tom’s ex-girlfriend and Jack’s best friend, pulls him aside to tell him what a mess he’s become. Immediately the audience senses the ease with which these two talk, a byproduct of improv. Iris suggests that Jack takes a break, takes his little red bike, and heads out to her father’s isolated cabin. Things, naturally, go awry when Jack arrives to find Iris’ half sister, Hannah (DeWitt), drowning her sorrows in tequila.
Where Iris is demure and calming, Hannah is a brash, Vegan lesbian who just ended her seven-year relationship. Jack, delighted to find a drinking partner, joins her. As the night progresses, their inhibitions dissolve from dishing over past lovers into a bumbling sexual encounter. When Iris shows up the next morning, the three begin to challenge each other’s perspectives and relationships.
Shelton has a knack for making you squirm, placing her characters in painfully uncomfortable situations and letting them work their way through it. Duplass, Blunt, and DeWitt are effortlessly genuine in their respective roles, bringing light to this quiet little indie.
Unfortunately, perhaps from the use of such well-known stars, the third act descents into an easy ending too soft for how strong the rest of the film is. Where Humpday left very little back, Your Sister’s Sister suffers from Hollywood’s need to wrap stories up in a neat little bow. Perhaps with more mainstream success, Shelton will be able to keep her fascination with her characters' flaws and dilemmas without worrying about a studio finish.
The predictable ending is the only obvious fault to be found in Your Sister’s Sister. Shelton introduces three sincere, charismatic characters, and her directorial style has grown in sophistication and scope since her earlier films. Watching Iris, Hannah, and Jack is like observing your own friends through a one-way mirror – if your own friends were this enchanting.
For Fans Of: Humpday, Cyrus, Jeff Who Loves At Home
Why We Like It: Mark Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Emily Blunt’s amazing chemistry, mumblecore, independent filmmaking