Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister stars Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Mark Duplass as three people stuck in a sloppy love triangle brought about by a bottle of tequila. (But, then again, would it have been confronted without the tequila?) These are three beautiful performances that invite us into a world pretty much void of narrative but certifiably stock-piled with delicate conversation, gentle honesty, and warm-hearted empathy. The characters created here are so immediately engaging that Shelton’s fly-on-the-wall realism becomes a generous privilege. We want to witness these people for a little while, and we do, and not much else matters.
The opening scene is notable, since it’s the only visible taste we’re given of a larger social framework. It’s the one-year anniversary of the death of Jack’s (Duplass) brother, and Jack has opened up his house to the man’s closest friends — including his ex, Iris (Blunt) — so that they can once again gather and reminisce on what a shame it was to have lost such a gracious man.
We soon sense deeper dynamics at work. While the deceased’s friends are busy doling out one praise after another, Shelton shows us Jack, in a corner of the living room, quiet and alone, sipping on his beer in a way that somehow seems more desperate than everyone else in the room. When he opens his mouth, we learn why — his brother wasn’t the kind-hearted godsend he’s being commemorated as, and Jack wants to set the record straight.
As an exceptional best friend would, Iris takes Jack into the hallway, calms him down, and invites him to clear his head for a week at her father’s tucked-away cabin. She’ll be stomped at work, but she insists that this is exactly what Jack needs — to be alone in the forest. Of course, when he gets there, the cabin isn’t empty, but is being inhabited very comfortably by a slimly-dressed woman, Hannah (DeWitt), who turns out to be Iris’s sister.
There’s the obligatory moment of confusion where she thinks he’s an intruder and proceeds to attack him with some kind of a stick, but Duplass’s demeanor has a way of settling situations like this rather handily. They’re soon sitting across from each other at the kitchen table, separated by a jug of tequila that Iris, fresh-off a seven-year relationship, is intent on finishing. She’s a lesbian, Jack and Iris have a platonic relationship, and they’re a hundred miles from populated civilization. Aside from everything, what could go wrong?
Considering the talent involved, it’s not earth-shattering to find that the results are both complicated and poignant. Blunt, who balanced light comedy and relationship drama in The Five-Year Engagement, does a good job adapting to different environment here — one that, after the comparably styled Rachel Getting Married, DeWitt is probably all-too-familiar with. Duplass, meanwhile, continues his absolutely bang-up year, having co-directed Jeff, Who Lives at Home (with his brother, Jay), co-starred in Safety Not Guaranteed, and lined up roles in countless more upcoming films (including People Like Us and, startlingly, Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama bin Laden thriller, Zero Dark Thirty).
For her part, Shelton is coming off the intermittently enlightening Humpday, which co-starred Duplass and Joshua Leonard as two best friends who challenge themselves into concocting the idea of shooting a two-straight-guys-having-sex porn movie. I’m not sure Your Sister’s Sister is as narratively assured as that film. What leads up to the revealing confrontation is quietly sublime, but the montage-heavy closing scenes are less emotionally satisfying than they are barren for the stasis they represent. The gimmicky final moment is even worse, in that it tries to force involvement in a resolution that a more cogent film wouldn’t bother with.
If the film’s a step down in that sense, Shelton remains obviously adept at depicting the innermost intimacies of her characters — a capability that’s seen most vividly in a one-take, middle-of-the-night conversation between Blunt and DeWitt. Of the film’s three main players, it’s DeWitt who’s given the richest characterization, and this pristine scene is one of the first instances where we really see her gears revealing themselves. And she does it all looking in the camera’s direction, away from her sister, and into the darkness of her own problematic decision-making.
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