Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Your Sister's Sister

Buried Alive In The Wilderness Of Human Emotion And Awkwardness 

Mark Duplass as Jack, Emily Blunt as Iris and Rosemarie DeWitt as Hannah in Lynn Shelton's "Your Sister's Sister". 
IFC Films


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Awkwardness is what film director Lynn Shelton specializes in on the big screen; in her 2009 film "Humpday" it was in the preparation for a sex encounter between two heterosexual men who dared each other to bone up.  In "Your Sister's Sister", Ms. Shelton's new comedy-romance-drama which opened last weekend, it's a scene early on that shatters any notion of manners and protocol following the death of Tom, the brother of Iris (Emily Blunt). 

Jack (Mark Duplass) was best friends with Tom, and had a good friendship with Iris.  To clear his head at Iris's suggestion Jack gets away from the outer reaches of Seattle to uninhabited areas of the Pacific Northwest to a cabin to have some time for himself but he's not alone: Iris's sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is unexpectedly inhabiting the cabin.  Their awkward encounter leads to a one night stand, and the discomfort of that episode permeates the entire film.  Lingering like an unwelcome aroma or cheap musk oil or overkill doses of perfume, it's raw, messy, earthy and subterranean, and the vast, open backdrop of the Pacific Northwest and its beautiful forestry only amplifies the situation between Hannah and Jack, making it more palpable and stark.  It is in these large (and small) moments that Mr. Duplass's improvisational skills are best served -- Jack has quick, amusing answers for every predicament and philosophical conversation he's involved in -- at least most of the time. 

Iris, who also pays a random visit to the cabin, has the wheels of her mind turning.  She may have a sixth sense about Hannah and Jack, while Hannah, who has deeper motives and agendas, playfully teeters on the edge of revelation with her younger sister, whom she's not exactly close to.  There's tension between Iris and Hannah that almost borders on a very strange or different kind of Oedipal, so to speak, and in emotionally intimate scenes between Hannah and Iris one can be forgiven for picturing Jack sandwiched in between them.  There are scenes that feel like a lighter more playful Ingmar Bergman drama, with only the residue of wrenching battles at the outer edges.  Ms. Shelton has a gritty, authentic storytelling style that she augments so well in her directing, and she like other directors like Nicole Holofcener and Jennifer Westfeldt, among others, are excellent writers of human drama and relationships.  They "get it", and so perfectly.

"Your Sister's Sister" is a funny, uncomfortable, haunting film about love, secrets, longings and aimlessness.  The film's greatest moments come from its own depictions of honesty, anticipation and awkwardness.  The trio of main characters have so much turbulence and unresolved matters swirling within them, and the director, herself a champion of improvised moments, capitalizes wonderfully on the circumstances that suffocate and galvanize Hannah, Iris and Jack by providing suspense and drama in lengthy, unbroken shots of plain-spoken dialogues largely unencumbered by music.  Ms. Shelton's cameras are always on, both fixed and handheld, actively maintaining a realistic atmosphere.  The adults in the film crave the real, even if they have to travel routes of pretension to attain it.  It is this terrain of, and journey in, human behavior that the actors and director get, and cover so well.

The fun of "Your Sister's Sister" (shot in less than two weeks) is in its equally quiet and explosive confessionals, balanced by silences that simmer, percolate and finally burst, like the air from a giant helium balloon.  When the balloon bursts in this film it is refreshing, liberating and adult -- from which comes pure, sincere moments between human beings simply looking to find their way amidst life's morasses and dilemmas.  All three actors are perfect matches to make Ms. Shelton's sharply and astutely-written story work.  Ms. Blunt, stronger here than in April's "The Five-Year Engagement", keeps you guessing about Iris's state of mind.  You feel she knows more than she lets on even if she doesn't show it. 

Mr. Duplass adds his usual brand of edginess and brooding angst, but it's Ms. DeWitt who shines brightest as Hannah, a woman pining for her own sense of peace and fulfillment, a woman who may not realize how loving or beautiful she is or can be.  Hannah finds a way (one that is slightly unrealistic or exaggerated for drama's sake) to get attention and commitment, yet it's less a cry for help than a way to express her vulnerability and fear about what the future will hold.  Like Iris and Jack, Hannah is lonely in the cabin on Puget Sound but in her desperate, outlandish way she's honest, and that's Ms. Shelton's bread-and-butter rule.

Mike Birgbiglia.

"Your Sister's Sister" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America forn language and some sexual content.  The film's running time is one hour and 30 minutes.

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