This Is What Talking Around Different Tables Looks Like
Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando
Early on in Your Sister's Sister, the new film from writer/director Lynn Shelton, you get the sense that there's a better story to tell than the one the the film ultimately ends up exploring.
Jack, played by Mark Duplass, is still grieving over the death of his brother after a year, so his best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), suggests that he retreat to her family's cabin on an island off the Washington coast to recover.
Isolation, it seems, is the best medicine when one already feels utterly alone.
Once Jack arrives, however, he finds the cabin already occupied by Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), Iris's lesbian, vegan sister. It doesn't take very long for Jack and Hannah to become drinking buddies, as Hannah has just walked out on a seven-year relationship and Jack takes comfort in meeting someone more miserable than he's been. Inevitably the two decide in their drunken stupor that the best option is to sleep with one another.
The rest of the film involves what I assume Shelton and Co. thought were funny ways that Jack and Hannah try to keep their affair a secret from Iris, who shows up the following morning to surprise Jack. As I watched I kept wondering why Jack was so concerned about Iris finding out about what happened with Hannah. Iris, after all, was Jack's brother's girlfriend so the stakes never seem that high as to warrant most of ninety-minute runtime to be devoted to guarding this secret.
It's the decision to focus on this story, instead of what losing a brother can do to someone, that the film lost me. Blunt and DeWitt are so good in their scenes together that you can't help but want more. Jack witnesses what Iris and Hannah are like together and clearly misses having that connection with his brother, but Shelton is uninterested in going there. There's even a scene in the third act where Jack tells Iris that he can never come between them - that their sibling relationship is something sacred, something Iris can never know the way Jack does because he's lost it. It's a powerful scene that reinforces where the story should have gone and how the film could have landed its own unique emotional impact. Instead, the film becomes an examination of actors sitting around a table and talking about nothing of substance.
Shelton has openly stated that she likes to let her actors create their own dialogue and not feel as though they have to stick to the script. This kind of improvisation can work if the actors know what they're doing. Duplass is not one of those actors and is dreadful from beginning to end making the film almost unwatchable. It's only when Blunt and DeWitt share scenes that Shelton's approach works, and even then it feels like if there had been more direction, the film may have worked.
What we end up with are several reveals in the third act that are completely unconvincing: Iris tells Hannah a major secret she's been keeping from Jack; Hannah's intentions with Jack are not what they originally appeared to be; Jack admits that he's not the best human being in the world. In other words, Shelton realized that she needed an ending to her film about actors sitting around different tables and talking. Within the span of about fifteen minutes, Your Sister's Sister becomes a melodrama wherein all hope seems lost and these characters seemed doomed to suffer for all of their poor decision-making. Then, suddenly, every single plot point is wrapped up all neat and nice and we realize we that this entire movie was a farce.
If there's one thing we can take away from Your Sister's Sister, it's that Blunt and DeWitt are two extraordinary actors. We're reminded of their better work (Blunt most recently in The Five Year Engagement and DeWitt in Rachel Getting Married) and shown that even with material as terrible as this, they'll own it and make us believe every scene that they're in.