The fourth feature film from writer-director Lynn Shelton has the scale and intimacy of a stage play. An essentially three-character comedy-drama set mostly in a house perched on a woodsy Pacific Northwest island, Your Sister’s Sister is full of close, extended conversation. It’s a wonder it’s not in French.
A film where people actually talk to each other isn’t a bad thing. The largely improvised, dangling conversations that take place over the movie’s 90-minute length are at times banal but even in such a freewheeling format the movie tells an affecting story.
Credit goes to Shelton’s cast, led by Emily Blunt, the British actress who’s done splendid work in such conventional mainstream films as The Young Victoria.
Blunt, like her fellow principal cast members, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mark Duplass, is listed as a creative consultant in the movie’s credits. The trio, having created so much of the film’s dialogue, probably deserves screenwriting credit.
Blunt plays Iris, the young woman DeWitt’s Hannah and Duplass’ Jack have in common. The scenario is tangled, but having these three characters’ lives so intertwined produces a deep well for the film’s “scaffolding,” as the director describes it, and the dialogue that grows from it.
Iris is Jack’s best friend. She also was girlfriend to Jack’s late brother, Tom.
In the year since Tom’s unexplained death, Iris and Jack have maintained their platonic status. Hannah is Iris’ half-sister.
Your Sister’s Sister opens with a dramatic gathering of Tom’s friends for a one-year observation of his passing. Jack, standing noticeably apart from Tom’s nostalgic, mellow friends, is the uncomfortably honest source of the scene’s party-spoiling drama.
Jack’s disruptive behavior at the party prompts Iris to act.
“You gotta stop,” she tells him in an empty hallway. “This is an intervention. I miss you. I miss my friend.”
Even when Jack talks to Iris, the woman who supposedly is his best friend, his gift for saying cruel, manipulative things that make people feel bad manifests itself.
Iris lets Jack’s hurtful words pass over her, but the movie audience may not be so forgiving.
Jack is an annoying guy. The annoyance doubles when he, having accepted Iris’ offer that he seek “head space” at her father’s island getaway, finds that Iris’ sister, Hannah, is already there.
Hannah, unknown to Iris, also is seeking refuge. She’s just left a seven-year relationship. So Hannah and Jack are suddenly mutual messes. As DeWitt and Duplass’ improvisation pours forth, neither one of their characters sounds like someone you’d want to spend an evening with.
The surprise arrival of Iris to the island house the next morning brightens things up. She brings light to the strange love triangle, even after things turn melodramatically dark and troubled.
All the while, there’s much more talk, including the film’s abundantly spouted four-letter words. Really, the director should have banned the “F” word. It’s used so often here that it functions as default declaration.
Despite all the jabbering, Your Sister’s Sister has a genuinely satisfying, even traditional story arc.
Like a classical music score, too, the film features dynamics, mixing louder, dramatic scenes with softer scenes. When the prolific conversation stops, minimal dialogue and silence say more than words.
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