In the age of the sequel, threequel and prequel, Hollywood is deliberately veering away from original ideas. So it’s no wonder this reviewer was keen to delve into indie territory. Luckily Your Sister’s Sister was exactly what I was looking for; a film that should have been like any other, and yet managed to be entirely unique.
Penned and directed by Lynn Shelton, the mastermind behind Humpday, which won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance 2009, this improv-heavy drama is a simple, quirky and refreshing tale that’s beautiful in telling and intriguing to watch.
It’s told through the eyes of best friends Jack (Mark Duplass) and Iris (Emily Blunt). Having lost his brother a year earlier, Iris suggests Jack stay at her family’s remote island getaway so he can sort himself out. However upon arrival, he discovers Iris’s sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) had the same idea. After a drunken encounter, things take a turn for the awkward when Iris unexpectedly turns up to keep Jack company. Cue secrecy, confessions and a whole lot of cringe-worthy irony.
Okay, so it sounds like your typical love triangle, but hear me out. It was actually very quirky. If the synopsis makes you think of a melodrama, in practise there was a lot of room for humour. And the actors seized these opportunities with both hands, despite the fact Shelton says she didn’t actually set out to make the film funny at all. The natural humour came out of the circumstances the characters were in, and the dynamic between the actors portraying them.
Yes, a lot of the film was improvised, which in my opinion gave it a feel of authenticity that drew me into what could have otherwise been a stale plot. Very often these types of films feel too staged, the actors keeping rigidly to the scripts, and they lose a lot of the vitality that comes with realism. Not the case in Your Sister’s Sister. In fact, it had a similar feel to the improvised drama Like Crazy released earlier in the year, if you want to check that one out.
Having already worked on Humpday with Lynn Shelton, Mark Duplass was a natural addition to a film that was going to be at least partially improvised. And he lives up to expectation as the dry and closed off Jack. His rapport with the two actresses seemed genuine, especially with Blunt, a relationship that needed to seem easy to serve the plot.
It was Blunt and DeWitt that I wanted to watch though, having never seen them act off the cuff. I’m delighted to report the pair coped beautifully. One of the best improvisations comes from DeWitt, when she blurts a secret about Blunt’s character, that would seem very random in any other movie. But so much of the plot relies on the casual conversation between the three to move it forward, so small, off beat anecdotes aren’t misplaced here.
If you are an action movie lover who isn’t interested in human stories, then this film won’t be for you. The most action we see is Jack attempting to beat up his bicycle. No explosions. No special effects. Just a few surprising plot twists, one of which genuinely caught me off guard. Although now I think about it, it really shouldn’t have. And if you can look past the initial confusion as to why Iris is English and her sister is American (They’re half sisters), you’ll be happy to just sit back and watch.
It’s just a little indie, quietly getting on with its job of entertaining you for 90 minutes. Don’t expect anything ground breaking. There are no punch lines and no crazy uncles to come in halfway through and liven things up. Simply enjoy the company of these three flawed human beings and appreciate the film as the low key piece of art it is intended as.
Your Sister’s Sister is out on DVD now!