Tag Archives: Amy Poehler

Sisters (2015)

sisters

Anyone who considers themselves a fan of Tina Fey and/or Amy Poehler (as I do) should be disappointed with Sisters. Partly because of high expectations and partly because of its uneven tone, extremely conventional narrative, weak plot and shades of racism. At the end of the day, as the long-awaited collaboration between two of the finest comedians of this generation, Sisters is simply not funny enough.

The film actually starts off with a lot of promise. As the title suggests, Fey and Poehler play sisters. They are close, but their personalities could not be further apart. Fey is Kate, the wild, irresponsible one who doesn’t even know where her much more mature daughter (Madison Davenport) has been hiding the entire summer. Poehler, on the other hand, is Maura, the sweet Good Samaritan with a penchant for inspirational quotes.

As fate would have it, they are both brought back to the family home in Orlando where they grew up, and decide to hold one final massive party with all their old high school friends. Think Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion meets Project X, with some Parenthood thrown in there (Dianne Wiest does play their mother, after all, and she’s fantastic as always).

I understand the tendency to want to like this film because Fey and Poehler are such likable people in real life. I enjoy their sassy brand of comedy and quirky wit, and thought it was a smart idea to toss up their personalities for this film to give audiences something different and to showcase what they can do. And to be fair, both of them have their moments of hilarity — Poehler in particular — and if we’re being strict about the six-laugh rule of thumb for a good comedy I believe Sisters hits that threshold.

However, that’s as far as I can go with the positivity. Sisters suffers from a multitude of problems, beginning with the fact that neither Kate not Maura are particularly likable people — that is, if you can separate the characters from the actresses who play them. There are times when their inner charm shines through, but when they are forced to stay in the characters written for them they simply aren’t as likable — or as funny.

That’s my way of saying it’s not all Fey and Poehler’s fault. They didn’t write or direct the film — those honours go to Paula Pell (best known for her sketches on Saturday Night Live) and Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect), and I blame them for not making the most of their opportunities. They seem to be quite good at introducing characters, but aren’t nearly as good in sustaining our interest in them. Case in point: pretty much all the supporting characters in the movie — from John Leguizamo’s dropkick former classmate Dave and Maura’s love interest James (Ike Barinholtz) to Kate’s nemesis Brinda (Maya Rudolph) and super awkward Alex (Bobby Moynihan), and even Korean nail salon worker Hae Won (Greta Lee) — are funnier and more endearing when they first appear, but become boring and much obnoxious the more screen time they get.

The exceptions are probably John Cena’s buffed drug dealer Pazuzu and the time-sensitive and depressed Kelly (Rachel Dratch), though in general I got the feeling that the film is really just a series of sketches filled with caricatures (eg, the wacky Koreans, the butch lesbians, the highly sexualized couple, etc). They are good for a joke or two, but once all the best jokes are used up they don’t really know what else to do with them.

As a series of sketches, Sisters also suffers from other problems, such as tonal inconsistencies and a weak narrative thread. The comedy is a strange mix of Fey and Poehler’s witty humour, modern vulgar humour, stupidity humour, saccharine rom-com humour and annoying yelling and screaming humour. At the same time, there are detours to sweet romance and family drama, and Moore can’t seem to quite figure out how blend all of these elements properly to find a comfortable equilibrium.

There’s also not much of a plot. The vast majority of the movie is hijacked by this long and tedious party that would never end. It just goes on and on, resulting in a ridiculously long 118-minute running time that should have been at least 20-30 minutes shorter.

I sound harsher than I mean to, but that’s because I wanted so much more from the film. Sure, Tina and Amy are great when they’re allowed to work their magic and have amazing chemistry, as we all expected, though I couldn’t avoid the sneaking suspicion throughout the movie that everyone involved in the making of it was having way more fun than the people watching it.

2.5 stars out of 5

Inside Out (2015)

inside out

As I’ve said many times before, I’m not the biggest fan of animated films. That said, if there is an exception it’ll have to be films produced by Pixar.

The studio’s latest effort, Inside Out, is an ambitious project that is taking the world by storm — notwithstanding its seemingly less attractive premise — largely thanks to rave reviews and word of mouth. And so I decided to check it out for myself.

There’s a Tumblr post being passed around lately outlining the premise behind each of Pixar’s films, with the joke being that every movie is “what if X had feelings?” So Toy Story is “what if toys had feelings?”, Wall-E is “what if robots had feelings?”, and Finding Nemo is “what if fish had feelings?”, and so forth. The one for Inside Out, fittingly, is “what if feelings had feelings?”. And that pretty much sums up the movie perfectly.

In Inside Out, we follow a human character called Riley from birth, though most of the action takes place inside her head, which is inhabited by different emotions who are personified into various characters. The lead character is Joy (Amy Poehler), and there’s also Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and so forth.

I won’t give away much more than that, but I will say it’s an extremely clever depiction of what goes on inside a person’s head, the conflict between different emotions, how memories are stored, remembered, recalled and discarded, and how all of this shapes a person’s personality.

There’s a lot more to how it works and the film will get to that as it progresses, and it’s all done with Pixar’s trademark simplicity, humour, emotions and of course colourful, stunning visuals. The most amazing thing about it all is that this heavily simplified and yet complex psychological system of feelings, memories, personality, depression and the subconscious — as told through a cartoon, no less — all somehow rings true. I’d be very interested to see if there are any educational studies into this film to see just how closely it matches up to what experts understand about the workings of the human mind at this point in time.

When you think about all the intricacies, the mutiple layers and the depth, Inside Out really is quite a remarkable piece of work. Many have gone as far as calling it “genius” and “a masterpiece.”

I’m not sure I would go that far, or even as far as what some critics like Mark Kermode have said, which is that Inside Out could become the first animated film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It certainly is a very intelligent premise filled with many clever ideas throughout, though as a piece of entertainment I feel like it still lacks a certain “wow” factor that the most compelling films have. There were times when I asked myself whether the confined limits of the premise would allow the film to truly take off. Maybe it’s just unrealistic expectations after hearing so much hype.

And while it easily passes the six-laugh test for a good comedy and has another handful of hearty chuckles sprinkled throughout, I also think the movie could have been even funnier given the ridiculously talented comedic cast (that also includes Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling and the easily recognisable voice of Richard Kind). Phyllis Smith is absolutely hilarious though.

It might be because cartoons just don’t have that effect on me, but I’m sure I’m not the only one as my wife is among several people who have told me that they think the film is just “OK”. However, I think the film is a lot more than just OK because it had an emotional impact on me that only a handful of animations have had before. I rarely get teary-eyed in movies these days and this film got me a few times. Perhaps it’s because I had gone through some similar life experiences to Riley and share some of the same memories. That’s why I think it’s actually a film targeted more at adults than children because it dredges up all these memories and emotions and nostalgia from when we were growing up.

With its imagination, intelligence, depth and ability to tug the heart strings, Inside Out is a film I can definitely see myself rewatching a few times and share with my kids as they grow older. Based on how much I enjoyed this first viewing already, I rate it…

4.25 stars out of 5

PS: The short film before the main feature, Lava, is also very sweet and touching, with a catchy tune that could get stuck in your head for days.