In this unconventional rom-com, Iris (Emily Blunt) sends her friend Jack (Mark Duplass) to her family cabin, only to find Iris’ sister Hanna (Rosemarie Dewitt) already in residence. The ensuing shenanigans toe the line between comedy and melodrama, which is ultimately both entertaining and exhausting. Enemies of mumblecore should stay far away.
It is rare that anyone goes to the trouble of lionizing the sacred nature of the bond between siblings. The relationship between parents and their children is almost unquestionably important, and we are probably all sick of hearing about the sacred nature of marriage. But as director/writer Lynn Shelton shows in Your Sister’s Sister, the relationship between siblings is less discussed, maybe because it is much harder to nail down.
The film opens on a tender memorial for a seemingly great guy, who died one year ago of unmentioned causes. While the others fondly reminisce, the deceased’s brother boozes gloomily in the corner, watched anxiously by the deceased’s girlfriend. These two, Jack and Iris, have struck up a close friendship, enough so for her to compel him to “get some headspace” at her father’s remote cabin.
This plan for contemplative seclusion goes awry when, upon arrival at the woodland retreat, Jack finds Iris’ half-sister Hanna already installed, recovering from the end of a long-term lesbian relationship. Thanks to some late-night bonding over tequila, followed by Iris’ unexpected arrival, an unusual love triangle emerges.
The film revels in a mumblecore aesthetic, using naturalistic settings and a relaxed verbal repartee that makes it seem as if all the periods in the script should have been replaced with ellipses. Despite its extemporaneous style, the script is sharp and poignant, filled with insightful quips that are reminiscent of everyday life. “You have great taste in life and bad taste in men,” Jack accuses Iris. “You have bad taste in clothes,”she replies, which is a comeback rather like the lackluster response one might actually hear in everyday conversation.
The three lead actors thrive in such unrestrained conditions. Dewitt excels at creating a damaged, slightly hard-bitten character who is likeable in spite of, or perhaps because of, her flaws. Duplass shifts easily between thoughtless egotism and vulnerable despondency; he’s basically a younger, brunette Louis C. K. in the film. And Blunt’s warm, inviting charm counters the bitter edge of the others.
The drawback of this relative lack of structure is that idiosyncrasies are emphasized over exposition. Hannah’s veganism is discussed repeatedly, but the death of Jack’s brother is largely unmentioned after the initial set-up. The characters discuss their feelings for one another, but rarely delve into their mutual history, leaving the audience with a sense of partial knowledge. Shelton’s delight in minutia within the script is refreshing (How often does one see a movie star in ill-fitting jean shorts, or with a smelly foot in her face?), but that doesn’t mean good storytelling should be jettisoned along the way.
Shelton is a unique voice in today’s cinema, interested in exploring delicate interpersonal relationships with both wit and grit. This film is much more polished than her previous work, with a lovely script, excellent acting, and superior technical control. She probably won’t break into the mainstream anytime soon. However, if she keeps devising such lively, thought-provoking, endearing films, she could become the Nora Ephron of indies.
The high picture quality of the Blu-Ray occasionally helps in discerning the nighttime exterior shots, and highlights the stunning beauty of the Washington wilderness. Most of the film, however, is composed of simple conversations in well-lit interiors, making the definition of the picture relatively unimportant.
The disc comes with two commentary tracks, one by Lynn Shelton and Mark Duplass, and another by Shelton and several members of the crew. Shelton and Duplass are old friends, thanks to previously working together on Shelton’s 2009 film, Humpday. It is no surprise they have many entertaining stories to tell about the trials and tribulations of independent filmmaking, including how the film reel broke during its premiere screening, how Rosemarie Dewitt stepped into her role three days before shooting, and how the cast navigated the largely improvised script. The track can get a bit nauseating after an hour and a half, as the two have nothing but good things to say about their work, but overall it is a pleasant and informative listen.
The second commentary, on the on the other hand, should have been left off the disc. Shelton and her crew are also quite close-knit, having worked on most of her films together. This probably makes for a great work dynamic; however, it makes for a lousy soundtrack. The group laughs and talks over one another for most of the film, drowning out the few observations they stop chortling long enough to make. Shelton occasionally tries to steer the group in a more productive direction, but as she often starts by relating anecdotes and observations she made on the first commentary track, little new information surfaces. The best use for this track is probably as a burglar deterrent, as anyone overhearing it would probably assume there is a raucous party in progress.