What struck me about Jason Moore’s new film Sisters is how much it owes to every 80s teen comedy. Penned by Paula Pell (SNL, 30 Rock), the story gives its stars, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey a chance to shrug off some of their more-cerebral work, and just mug furiously for two hours. Given the combined brilliance of the two stars, it’s a tiny bit of a let down that Sisters wasn’t smarter, but the film’s juvenile conceit is easily hidden by the furious rat-a-tat-tat of the dialogue and the breathless pace of the actresses’ quipping.
The last time Poehler and Fey were in a film together was in 2008’s Baby Mama. In that film, Poehler played up on her sexy geek persona, while Poehler was a furious, comedic mess. In Sisters, the ladies trade roles, and it’s Poehler who is the fuddy-duddy, and Fey’s the major fuck up. Poehler is well cast as Maura Ellis, a nurse who lives her life primly by the rules, meddling in other people’s lives – there are shades of Leslie Knope in the character. She’s the kind of person that marches up to a homeless man uninvited, forcing her charity on him even if he doesn’t want it.
Fey’s is Kate Ellis. Though the role isn’t as well-written, and Fey is miscast as a sloppy hot mess express, it’s clear that she feels liberated from her usual brainy ladies roles. As uptight and rigid as Maura is, Kate is a disaster. Perpetually unemployed and saddled with a preternaturally mature teen daughter, Kate is essentially homeless and lurches from one nightmare to the next.
When the Ellis sisters find out that their parents – James Brolin and Dianne Wiest – announce that they’re selling the family home to downsize, the girls decide to throw one more rager of party. The party is meant to draw Maura out of her shell and give Kate a moment of escapism during a difficult time. In the tradition of every “Hey, our parents are out of town, let’s throw a party” movie, the Ellis sisters’ party grows into monstrous proportions, decimating their childhood home as drunken revelers destroy the house as the night progresses.
Sisters is a fun movie, but without Poehler and Fey it would be nothing. The two comediennes imbue their characters with some great work – Poehler especially gets a chance to let Maura grow from an uptight fussbudget to a party animal. Pell gifts her pals with some great lines. Other comedic greats like John Lequizamo, Ike Barinholtz, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Moynihan, and Jon Glaser pop up, each making his or her mark. But the best of the supporting players are Maya Rudolph as a childhood enemy and Samantha Bee as a sexually frustrated housewife.
As good as the film is, it does run too long – and the relationship between the girls and their parents isn’t all that believable (though Poehler and Fey are very credible as siblings). Also, Pell isn’t afraid of a cliche, and there are quite a few: uptight prig who loosens up sexually, sloppy mess of a woman child, an obnoxiously precocious kid, randy seniors, Asian nail salon workers with thick accents. Still, the movie is lots of fun even if it depends on the fantastic charms of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.