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