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Tina Fey and Amy Poehler let their freak flags fly in the new comedy scripted by veteran Saturday Night Live writer Paula Pell about two sisters reuniting to throw a blow-out bash in their old childhood home. Featuring a plethora of very funny gags and one-liners, Sisters is bound to please fans of the oft-paired comic performers last seen onscreen together in Baby Mama. But it’s a shame that this supremely talented duo is participating in such lowest-common-denominator, puerile material. As demonstrated by the numerous “poop” jokes or the comic set pieces involving a music box stuck up a guy’s butt and a female mud wrestling match, this is a far cry from the likes of 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation.
Fearlessly opening opposite Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the film should still manage to attract audiences who have little interest in light-saber battles.
RELEASE DATE Dec 18, 2015
The central characters are siblings Kate (Fey) and Maura (Poehler) Ellis, whose disparate personalities don’t prevent them from being extremely close. Kate is a rebellious, profane firebrand, unable to hold down a job and estranged from her teenage daughter (Madison Davenport), who’s so fed up with her mother’s immaturity that she’s run away. The recently divorced Maura is the straight arrow, a nurse so do-gooding that she attempts to help homeless people on the street only to find out that they’re not actually homeless.
Informed by their parents (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin, who, strangely enough, are similarly paired in the new sitcom Life in Pieces) that their family home in Orlando is being sold, Kate and Maura immediately fly to Florida to change their minds. They discover the house already has a “Sold” sign on the front door and is broom-clean empty except for their cluttered childhood bedroom which, they’re informed, must be cleared out.
While nostalgically leafing through their old possessions surrounded by posters of Xanadu and Michael J. Fox, the sisters read excerpts of their teenage diaries aloud to each other, with the entries signaling their vastly different past experiences. They also hatch the idea of throwing one last bash, sending out invitations to the “Ellis Island” party to all their former friends and schoolmates, with the exception of Kate’s old nemesis Brinda (Maya Rudolph).
Cue the Risky Business-style chaos, as the event — for which the normally freewheeling Kate has agreed to stay sober and act as the “Party Mom” so that Maura can get drunk and try to seduce hunky, younger neighbor James (Ike Barinholtz) — quickly devolves into a raucously destructive affair that leaves the house in a shambles.
Reminiscent of such Judd Apatow-produced comedies as Bridesmaids, Sisters serves up relentless vulgarity, with Fey dropping more F-bombs in two hours than in her entire career to date. Playing against type, she’s clearly enjoying flaunting her sexier side and is often very funny in the process. Poehler, only slightly harder-edged here than as the perpetually optimistic Leslie Knope, is equally good, and the relaxed chemistry and affection between the performers is palpable.
The supporting cast is filled with expert comic players, many of them culled from the past and present SNL ranks. Besides Rudolph, they include Rachel Dratch, in a variation of her “Debbie Downer” character; Bobby Moynihan, flying off the walls as a nerd who’s accidentally ingested way too much cocaine; Kate McKinnon, as one-half of a lesbian couple who provides the party with thudding EDM music; Samantha Bee and Matt Oberg, as a married couple whose libido is ignited by the partying; and John Leguizamo, as a high school burnout who propositions the sisters by asking if they’ll make him the inside of an “Ellis sandwich.”
Also on hand is John Cena as a tattooed drug-dealer, basically fulfilling the same male beefcake role as he did in Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck with similarly amusing results.
Although the film, directed by Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect), mostly concentrates on over-the-top comic mayhem, it’s actually funniest in its quieter, subtler moments. The deadpan repartee between Fey and Poehler is frequently uproarious, and a simple scene — involving Maura painfully attempting to correctly pronounce the name of a young Korean manicurist, Hae-Won (Greta Lee, practically stealing the film) — is so sublimely silly that it’s not surprising to see the end-credit outtakes of Poehler helplessly cracking up.
As evidenced by those outtakes, everyone involved in the making of Sisters was clearly having a good time. It’s one that’s likely to be shared by audiences, but it’s hard not to wish that the talented stars would aim as highly in their big-screen work as they do in television.
Production: Little Stranger, Everyman Pictures
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz, James Brolin, John Cena, John Leguizamo, Dianne Wiest
Director: Jason Moore
Screenwriter: Paula Pell
Producers: Tina Fey, Jay Roach, John Lyons
Executive producers: Amy Poehler, Jeff Richmond, Brian Bell
Director of photography: Barry Peterson
Production designer: Richard Hoover
Editor: Lee Haxall
Costume designer: Susan Lyall
Composer: Christophe Beck
Casting: Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee
Rated R, 118 minutes
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