Directed by Jason Moore | Written by Paula Pell | 118 min | ▲▲▲△△
So much of what makes Hollywood comedies memorable is a balancing of tone between the gags and the narrative. It’s about believing that the characters live and breathe outside the frame of the film, that they go on after it’s over. It’s that balance that made movies like Animal House, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Bridesmaids, and even The Hangover work so well. It’s why I think Judd Apatow has found so much success—he remembers you have to care for the characters enough to laugh at their situations. That and his recognition of talent.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have talent coming out of their ears, and effortless chemistry based on decades of collaboration. Sisters is their show all the way. They play 40-something siblings Maura and Kate Ellis, ticked off with their parents (Diane Wiest and James Brolin) for selling the suburban homestead in Orlando, so they head home and throw a wall-shaking party like the old days to see the place off, inviting old SNL pals Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Kate McKinnon, and Bobby Moynihan over, along with John Cena, John Leguizamo, Samantha Bee, Ike Barinholtz, and the original Dawn Wiener, Heather Matarazzo,
Cue the longest party scene since The Party. The writing is sharp, and there are a lot of jokes that hit their mark—I dug the T’Pau and Xanadu gags—with full credit to the dynamic duo for keeping us engaged.
But when the film tries to get poignant it feels forced. Neither Kate nor Maura are actually plausible as functioning adults and their stakes are resolutely small potatoes. Middle-aged people who’ve lost touch with their fun 20-something selves is great material to plumb for comedy, but as the film goes along they trade the opportunity for more physical humour. A late-going plot point involving a sinkhole and Kate’s daughter is simply dire.
Oh, and Fey and Poehler, who produce, could take a lesson from Woody Allen: bring your frothy comedies in under 100 minutes. Nothing here in the final reel feels worth sticking it out for aside from the bloopers over the end credits.