Lynn Shelton, writer-director of the titillating but underwhelming male psyche exam Humpday, about two straight guys who test their macho friendship by making a gay porn film about having sex with each other on camera before fizzling out at the last minute, has come up with another actionless talkathon called Your Sister’s Sister. What is it with this talented low-budget indie filmmaker whose gabfests take on brave ideas and then talk themselves to death, gasping for breath between monologues? I’ve seen Your Sister’s Sister twice, and fallen asleep in the same place both times. It’s a credit to the actors that it ended up winning me over in spite of myself.
Eulogizing his dead brother a year after his death at an impromptu cocktail-party memorial, Jack (the annoying but charmingly naturalistic mumblecore actor Mark Duplass, who played one of the endlessly overly analytical potential screw-ees in Humpday), not only takes issue with the loving remarks expressed by the dearly departed’s friends but ends up making a scene by insulting them in the bargain. Jack’s best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), also his late brother’s ex-girlfriend who dumped him, sends Jack off to her father’s remote cabin on an island off the coast of Seattle. No TV. No Internet. Just a place to think, rest and get some alone time. When Jack arrives on his bicycle, understandably exhausted, he finds the isolated retreat already occupied by Iris’ sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), an unhappy lesbian who is nursing her own wounds after breaking up with her longtime lover. Hannah is not happy to have her space invaded, but they sip tequila, munch dehydrated bananas and mutter nonstop dialogue, mostly inconsequential and largely improvised. “I’m not good for small talk,” says Jack, “so I apologize if I’m barging through the doors of our privacy or anything.” But that doesn’t stop anyone in Lynn Shelton movies. After a meaningless drunken monologue about the appeal of her butt, Jack adds, “Let me tell you another thing which is inappropriate but super-safe because you’re a lesbian—if I were differently equipped or if you were differently inclined, this night might go a very different way. I’m just saying I would be super-open to that in a whole other universe.” Not the least of the resulting implausibilities as they go to bed together is the fact that it’s the lesbian who provides the condom.
Iris shows up unexpectedly the next morning with a bag of groceries and then it’s three people instead of two, going yadda yadda yadda about everything from pubic hair to how a dollop of butter in vegan Hannah’s mashed potatoes is the inhuman equivalent of five pounds of fear. When’s the last time you watched an entire scene about the preparation of flaxseed pancakes?
The jabber is maddening, but with all due respect, the actors are wonderful, the performances as natural as inhaling. Still, in Emily Blunt’s case, there is such a thing as too natural. She mumbles, whispers and makes inaudible words with her tongue. There’s one entire scene in bed where she is totally incomprehensible. Nothing ever happens of any consequence, but everybody talks about it. When she discovers Hannah broke up with her girlfriend because she wanted children, Iris blurts out advice that seems so practical (“You can go online. There’s sperm donors. There’s sperm in the air. Just grab a dude and preg yourself up!”) you tend to forget that nobody you know ever talks like that. It’s bad enough when Iris, who secretly knows her feelings for Jack have passed the platonic stage, finds out Hannah got into his underwear first. But then Iris and Jack both discover Hannah poked holes in the condom—and all hell breaks loose. Can Jack marry Iris and father her sister’s baby at the same time? Does anybody care?
Like all Lynn Shelton films, the characters develop big intimacies in small doses, with humor that swings from understated to raunchy. It takes a while for them to break through the roadblocks of rhetoric and reach your heart. But thanks to the sweet goofiness of Mark Duplass (how refreshing to encounter a leading man who appears to have never seen the inside of a gym), the pragmatism of Emily Blunt and the conflicted self-control of Rosemarie DeWitt (best remembered as the unhinged bride in Rachel Getting Married), this three-hander has an honesty and a momentum that I found grudgingly rewarding.
YOUR SISTER’S SISTER
Running Time 90 minutes
Written and Directed by Lynn Shelton
Starring Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt
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