Director Jason Moore’s new comedy Sisters seems to revolve around a logical idea: if you group enough funny people in front of a camera, there will be laughs to be had in the result. The dynamic duo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are put front and center, and Sisters places them in a plot that allows them to interact with as many talented comedians as can fit into a 118-minute movie. And while the story is extremely simple, and has a wobbly start, ultimately enough of it works to call it a success.
Based on an original screenplay by Saturday Night Live veteran Paula Pell, the film stars Poehler and Fey as Maura and Kate Ellis – siblings who happen to fall into your classic odd couple categories. Maura (Poehler) is organized, and professional, but also introverted; and Kate (Fey) means well, but is also an irresponsible scatterbrain who basically needs her teenage daughter (Madison Davenport) to help run her life. While they normally live separate lives, they’re brought back together when their parents (Dianne Wiest, James Brolin) reveal that they are selling the women’s childhood home. The deal is all but done, but Maura and Kate have to clean out their old rooms and decide what they want to keep and what’s going to the trash.
It’s while going through their teenage belongings, especially their respective diaries, that the sisters discover their mission. Ever the sensible sibling, Maura never had her chance to really have her own crazy night in the house, always taking on the self-imposed role of “party mom.” With their parents busy moving into their new home, Maura and Kate decide to throw one last bash, and invite all their old high school classmates for an impromptu reunion. Of course, this just winds up being the perfect setting to drudge up old disputes and bring conflicts to the surface.
As you’ve probably worked out by now, this isn’t exactly the most shockingly original concept ever to be thrown on to the big screen, but it’s really just a thin idea meant to be used as a vehicle to get some very funny people to interact. Admittedly, this takes a toll on the start of the film, as it gets weighed down with exposition and clarified characterization in the run up to the big party, but once it manages to get over that hump and lean into what it wants to be, that’s when it really succeeds.
Sisters really kicks into gear when it first starts getting the opportunity to throw talented comedians at the screen – and Jason Moore and Paula Pell deserve a lot of credit for crafting plenty of moments and situations that let each actor’s presence stand out. Maya Rudolph (as the antagonistic high school rival), Ike Barinholtz (as the surprisingly normal love interest for Poehler), and Bobby Moynihan (playing a guy who tries way too hard to be funny at every moment) are well-cast and standouts, but the movie is littered with great scenes featuring John Leguizamo, John Cena, Rachel Dratch and Samantha Bee. Each one of them has their own little part to play, and they keep the film alive from sequence to sequence.
Talented as the ensemble is, the film recognizes that its greatest weapon is the pairing of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, and swings that sword at every opportunity. As we’ve seen time and time again from their previous collaborations, the two actresses have tremendous synchronous timing in their comedic style and sensibilities, and every moment that they’re together you understand why a filmmaker would want the chance to pair them as siblings. Great as they are together, Poehler and Fey also give great individual performances, doing a bit of role reversal from the last time they were on the big screen together, 2008’s Baby Mama. As she did for years on Parks and Recreation, Poehler does hilarious things with her more straight-edge character, while Fey does a fantastic job breaking out of her 30 Rock mold with her part.
One could make the argument that the place Sisters will hold in cinematic history is simply as one of the films that went up against Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but the quality of the film certainly makes that a bit unfortunate. It’s not the funniest or the most original comedy we’ve seen, or has even been released this year, but it certainly is a demonstration that when you get enough funny people together, it often results in a good amount of laughs.