Perfect Sisters (2014)

Being a teenager can be murder.

Based on the real-life story of two Canadian sisters who performed matricide, and adapted from the book by Bob Mitchell, The Class Project: How to Kill a Mother: The True Story of Canada’s Infamous Bathtub Girls, Perfect Sisters marks the directorial debut of producer Stanley M. Brooks, Prayers for Bobby (2009). Best comparable to Peter Jackson’s 1994 New Zealand drama Heavenly Creatures, Brooks’ first feature focuses on the premeditated 2003 murder of a mother in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, by her two teenage daughters. Blending comedy and fantasy with social and family melodrama, Perfect Sisters is an often uneven affair, elevated by solid performances and an intriguing narrative.

Linda Anderson (Mira Sorvino) is an alcoholic, party-loving mother who often neglects her maternal duties, failing to hold-down a steady job while subjecting her teenage daughters, and seven year old son Bobby, to a string of violent, abusive boyfriends, in order to pay the rent. Her current beau, Steve Bowman (James Russo), is a real doozy, particularly given his sexual advances towards Linda’s youngest daughter, Beth. However sisters, Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Anderson (Georgie Henley) and Sandra Anderson (Abigail Breslin), have one another to lean on when times are tough, with their almost co-dependent relationship. The girls eventually tire of their miserable and dysfunctional life at home — especially after Linda’s sister, Martha (Rusty Schwimmer), refuses to aid the family with financial support — and they joke around with their friends, Ashley (Zoe Belkin) and Justin (Jeff C. Ballard), about killing their irresponsible mother in hopes of improving their dire situation. The girls eventually follow through with their preposterous plan by pumping Linda with a load of sleeping pills, then drowning her in the bathtub, giving off the impression of an accidental death. After seemingly getting away with the murder, Beth and Sandra move in with their Aunt Martha, but Sandra begins to derail with constant partying and drinking, eventually confessing to anyone and everyone, the truth behind her mother’s passing. Alas, it isn’t long until the police re-open the investigation and target Beth and Sandra as the prime suspects of a ‘likely’ cold-blooded murder.

Not so perfect sisters!
Not so perfect sisters!

While Perfect Sisters suffers from an unfocused and sometimes forced script, as well as voice-overs and montages that detract from the picture’s fascinating real-life stranger-than-fiction story, the film is anchored by solid performances from the key cast of players. The diversely talented Mira Sorvino, Mimic (1997), gives a convincing turn as the failed mother Linda — seemingly exhibiting the substance abuser’s inability to function — yet remains affable throughout, a great achievement, given the character’s bad behavior. Equally, Rusty Schwimmer, The Informant! (2009), who portrays the girls’ concerned aunt does a great job in the way she turns against her nieces once she realizes their involvement in the crime. The stunning Abigail Breslin, The Call (2013) and Georgie Henley — who appears to have taken a 4-year break from acting since starring in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader back in 2010 — possess clear on-screen chemistry together as the scheming-teenagers, Sandra and Beth, and make for convincing siblings, although completely dissimilar in appearance.

In spite of solid casting and great performances, the film’s depiction of the teens has been fairly scrutinized by the Toronto community for portraying the murders through a far too sympathetic lens, as the sexual abuse painted as part of the girl’s murder motive was not evident in the shocking real-life court trial — which played out for weeks inside a Brampton courtroom — as the girls were far more callous and calculating in reality, they even giggled during a courtroom autopsy testimony and basked in the media limelight, particularly the older sister, who posted nude photos of herself online for more exposure. Furthermore, Fab Filippo and Adam Till’s, Too Late to Say Goodbye (2009), screenplay paints the teenagers as victims of circumstance rather then apathetic killers, chiefly when they are shown fantasizing about an ‘ideal’ mum in a series of strange scenes or the out-of-place sequence where the girls imagine killing their mother in a number of different scenarios. These personality changes have possibly been added to enable us to connect with Beth and Sandra on a more emotional level, or perhaps understand why they were driven to such a heinous act, either way, the mix between comedy and deep-seeded drama don’t totally mesh. The film’s sporadic soundtrack by Carmen Rizzo, Thirteen (2003), doesn’t help either, however, this jagged, muddled tone is somewhat fitting, given that the picture explores the irrational mind-space and thought processes of teenagers who don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions.

Think I'm crazy now, you should see me with my sister!
Think I’m crazy now, you should see me with my sister!

A ludicrous mishmash of genres, Perfect Sisters tries to rise above its disturbing subject matter by weaving light-hearted moments within the narrative’s intense themes, but kudos to director Stanley M. Brooks for at least attempting something different, even if he doesn’t successfully pull the entire thing off. Poor cinematography aside, Perfect Sisters features a solid cast — Breslin and Henley are terrific as the closely bound sisters, as is the radiant Mira Sorvino — and a gripping final act, ensuring that those with a taste for true-crime stories get a ‘cartoonish’ insight into Canada’s ‘bathtub girls,’ who today, both in their mid-twenties, are living shackle-free lives.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Perfect Sisters is released through Anchor Bay Entertainment Australia