Sisters (2015) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and for drug use
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz, Maya Rudolph, John Leguizamo, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, Bobby Moynihan, John Cena, Greta Lee, Madison Davenport, Rachel Dratch, Santino Fontana, Britt Lower, Samantha Bee, Kate McKinnon, Jon Glaser, Chris Parnell
Director: Jason Moore
Screenplay: Paula Pell
Review published December 20, 2015
One would think that the combined efforts of "SNL" alums and NBC sitcom stars Tina Fey (This is Where I Leave You, Muppets Most Wanted) and Amy Poehler (Inside Out, Are You Here) would be a can't-miss proposition. Yet, Sisters is too anemic even for immensely likeable and very talented comedians like them to save. Raunchy humor isn't exactly their strong suit; nobody says they love either of them because they know how to push the envelope of taste for big laughs. Still, in this mode, even if they're willing to dish it out with the best of them, they're just too smart and witty as comedic talents to work well in a comedy that relies so much on sophomoric and silly physical gags. The only chuckles elicited come through some of the small-ball comedy moments: ad-libbed one-liners (A struggle to find suitable skin-tight party outfits at a hip clothing store produces the quip, "We need a little less Forever 21 and a little more Suddenly 42") and absurdly universal awkwardness we all feel at times (Maura's inability to correctly pronounce the name of her Korean manicurist, Hae-won, despite dozens of close attempts). Sadly, there aren't enough of those choice quotable lines to relish in the film, which goes for mostly unfunny physical humor and lame genitalia jokes to fuel most of the laughs.
Fey and Poehler are uniting seven years after their first big-screen starring pairing in Baby Mama, playing middle-aged siblings, irresponsible and recently unemployed beautician Kate (Fey) and conscientious-to-a-fault recently divorced nurse Maura (Poehler), who are shocked when they hear that their parents are selling the Orlando, Florida home the sisters grew up in and need to come out to clear out the bedrooms that have remained largely untouched since they left home in the early 1990s. Their reminiscences while heading back to their old home and sifting through the knick-knacks brings up lots of nostalgia for their youth, to the point where they decide they're going to invite all of their old friends back to "party like its 1989" at the house one last time before it's sold off.
Scripted by Paula Pell ("Hudson Valley Ballers"), a longtime writer for "Saturday Night Live" during the Fey/Poehler years, and occasional writer and bit player on Fey's "30 Rock", the film mostly plays like an idea for a skit on the late-night show padded out to nearly two hours in length, then injected with lots of crass humor that even "SNL" couldn't get away with. Somewhere deep down in this story, there's a worthy theme about how middle-aged people with relationship and employment concerns wish that they could return to those young and carefree days, but any erudite subtext is all but completely jettisoned in favor of silly shenanigans and rampant debauchery. Alas, director Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) thinks that upping the levels of depravity will also up the instances of laughs, but fails to realize that less is more when it comes to vulgarity -- you need to pick your spots. For it to work best, we should view our heroines as faceted characters and not one-note caricatures if we're going to laugh at their foibles, or to care if they find love or smooth over family issues in the end.
Woefully overlong for such a thin plot, and full of the already overdone, Apatow-era trendiness of seeing drunk and stoned adults living irresponsibly, Sisters feels borne out of the idea that big-name comedians should do a raunchy comedy because some of them have proven successful over the last several years. Derivative and often redundant, the plot feels like a mish-mash of Romy and Michele's High School Reunion and Weird Science, but even more disappointing given that two top-flight comedians are front and center. With a veteran screenwriter who has spent many years writing jokes specifically Fey and Poehler, and two of the best improvisational comedy talents (both of whom are successful writers themselves) are given free reign to cut loose, the fact that they miss the mark for so much of the comedy is particularly bewildering.
The difference between Sisters and a Judd Apatow film is that, though also indulgent and overlong, Apatow's films manage to get us to care about the characters and end the film on a poignant and sweet-natured note to temper the bad-taste comedy antics of the prior ninety minutes. Sisters goes 'balls deep' (an expression used twice in the film) to crudeness and never manages to pull out of the nosedive until we've grown to dislike every one of the characters, including the doting, kind parents. A late plot development in the film sees one of the sisters attempt to end the party that's gone out of control, and about that time, you'll also wish that the film itself could wrap things up for a respectable exit. Alas, the wrap-up continues for at least 30 more minutes, as the film kicks its reckless behavior into overdrive, finally cracking the good-natured, scattershot fun of most of the build-up into a dissatisfying, noisy mess.
-- Some outtakes play at the beginning of the end credits.
©2015 Vince Leo