Film Review: Your Sister’s Sister


Title: Your Sister’s Sister
Director: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt
Release Date: 29 June 2012


Your Sister’s Sister – the sibilance in the title underscores three of the finest features of the film: scenery, score and sex. But more on that later.

First, the basics. Your Sister’s Sister is a low-key affair which tells the story of three thirty-something year olds whose lives get muddled together in unforeseen ways over the course of a few days. It’s been a year since Jack’s (Mark Duplass) brother passed away. He’s still not quite over the death, and after a rather volatile display of his unresolved grief, his best friend Iris (Emily Blunt) suggests he goes and spends a few days of self-reflection at her family’s lakeside cottage in the middle of nowhere. Unbeknownst to either of them, Iris’s sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), has similar ideas for herself. Getaway plans collide. Complications ensue.

The plot is simple. The cast is small – we don’t encounter anybody besides these three people after the first five minutes of the movie. The location work is minimal too – the film takes place almost exclusively in and around the confines of a single wood cabin and surrounding greenery.

All of this works very much to the picture’s advantage – if this movie does nothing else, it serves as poster boy for the minimalist school of thought and proves that something really can be made from very little. The fact that the movie limits itself to three characters allows these three people’s personalities to be explored to equal extents and in a wholly satisfying way. This would not have been possible, however, without the brilliant performances given by our three stars, all of whom are also billed as ‘creative consultants’ in the end credits.

This point is important, because Your Sister’s Sister uses an improvisation-based technique throughout filming – the likes of which made popular by the films of Christopher Guest, and by TV shows such as Outnumbered more recently – where the actors are given only a basic outline before filming a scene. The stars are told the key plot points that need to be explored, character development that must take place, end point that must be reached within the limits of a particular segment of the film. Beyond this, they are allowed free agency to develop their own dialogue and characterisations as the filming progresses.

In Your Sister’s Sister, this technique, leavened by a deft bit of directing on the part of Lynn Shelton, produces scenes in which the character interactions feel startlingly genuine. Dialogue is fluid and natural. Emotions feel real. Reactions and expressions take on a unique sense of believability. This creates a deeper sense of relation to the characters, and intensifies our involvement in the film.

The short time frame and minimal setting complements the minimalist vibe of the film, and produces a piece which is sharply focused and has a fabulous sense of pace. The story moves along at a comfortable rate, and all of its elements are managed effortlessly throughout – dovetailing to a conclusion that feels entirely apt, from both an emotional and a storytelling standpoint. That said, despite the rich characterisations and intelligent dialogue, this film also knows not to take itself too seriously. There is a healthy amount of humour between the characters and throughout the film.

In particular, this brings us to the ‘sex’. After a lot of hard liquor, and some far-from-graceful fumbling under covers, two characters decide to do the nasty, producing what might be the most entertaining sex scene ever to grace the silver screen. The male in question proceeds to have quite possibly the most comically protracted time to orgasm ever recorded. This is followed by a paroxysmal squealing noise, and a sheepish “Thank you” before rolling off to sleep. Shakespeare may have been right when he wrote that alcohol “provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance”, but I’m not sure he meant it to quite this extent.

On to scenery; the film capitalises on the diversity of natural beauty that Washington State’s San Juan Islands has to offer. Furthermore, it features a highly economical exploitation of its location’s lush forests and serene water features – the same single shot of a nearby lake must have been used about four or five times throughout the film, each time being portrayed in a new and striking light.

The score was also refreshingly original – having the folky quality to be expected from an artsy film such as this, but also managing to mix in a number of otherworldly tones to surprisingly good effect.  In fact, the sound in general was quite good in Your Sister’s Sister – every effect and detail was tended to meticulously, and every sound felt completely appropriate and in its place.

Overall, it’s hard to say anything bad about this film – the only gripe being the apparent trashing of a very nice bike towards the end of the movie. But even this was all for the good of character development – and as a character piece alone, Your Sister’s Sister is entirely worth a punt.

In a Nutshell: A sweet film, guaranteed to have you leaving the cinema with a smile on your face.

by Ethan Troy Barnes