There seems to be a trend with the reviews coming out for Sisters where reviewers are saying, “We expected better from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.” Why? Just because they’re funny ladies they’re not allowed to make a bawdy, raunchy, hilarious film? Sounds a little sexist to me.
Sisters, written by Saturday Night Live Writer Paula Pell and directed by Jason Moore, focuses on two sisters, Kate (Fey) and Maura (Poehler), who have been summoned home by their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) to clean out their childhood bedroom because their parents are selling the house. Maura, the good sister, is devastated because she is trying to cling to anything familiar after getting divorced two years previously. Kate, the older and wilder sister, is devastated because as a single mother whose daughter (Madison Davenport) is practically raising her instead of the other way around, Kate was counting on the house being passed on or at least serving as her next place of residence. When their parents’ plan is revealed to them, the sisters agree to throw one last high school-style bash at the house and hilarity ensues.
Now, most of that plot description probably didn’t sound like a comedy at all, but a drama. This is where Sisters didn’t work for me. So many absurd things happen in this film and Kate is so much of a wacky character that when a “real” film tries to intrude on the fun, the tone is all off. Kate is a character that feels sprung from a Will Ferrell / Adam McKay film where absurdity rules. When she tries to express real emotions and have real dramatic moments it feels forced, like a round peg trying to fit into a triangle hole.
Poehler’s situation is not much better. As a divorcee, Maura is nervous about getting back out there, but when she meets local contractor James (Ike Barinholtz), sparks fly—a bit too many sparks to be honest. Magically, the film makes it seem like Maura and James are soulmates after a chance meeting that Kate instigates as a joke. What starts out as “I need to get back on the horse,” becomes “I think I love him,” and the film doesn’t earn that outcome in any way possible.
Brolin and Wiest also didn’t totally work for me as the parents. They certainly have some funny scenes, but at times it felt like they didn’t know how to behave in this one—play it straight or go completely gonzo? This is probably because the film itself doesn’t know what it wants to be—a straight-up comedy or a comedy with a solid dramatic through line. The Night Before is another bawdy comedy that has some serious elements to it, but I felt that Jonathan Levine handled those elements much more deftly.
All these complaints might make it sound like I didn’t enjoy Sisters, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Once the film gets through the first ten to fifteen minutes, it is absolutely hilarious. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler do a great job with the comedy, reversing their roles from their last film collaboration, Baby Mama. Here, Poehler is the straight woman to Fey’s wacky character. The supporting cast is also great including Maya Rudolph as an old high school rival of Fey’s, John Leguizamo as another old classmate, John Cena—who has been racking up quite the list of funny film cameos—as a local drug dealer, and SNL’s Bobby Moynihan as another former classmate who kind of loses his mind at the party. What results is a hilariously raunchy film that shows that the girls can play just as hard as the boys.
Overall, Sisters is a super hilarious film, but I felt like it should have gone full-on Step Brothers instead of trying to ground certain elements with these characters. All of them felt like characters and not people, so when the serious elements come in, they don’t play right. If I was grading Sisters solely as a comedy, I’d probably give it an A-, but if I were grading it solely as a film, it would probably garner a C, so that evens out to about a…