Big sisters don’t always know best.
Amy Poehler and Tina Fey have always had an innate ability to elevate the shallowest of formulas, imbuing a carefree yet exuberant vitality to all their projects (be it as actress/writer/producer or all three at once), and combined with the women’s natural comic timing and whip-smart humor, their incandescent aura has solidified the starlets as two of the funniest and best female entertainers working in Hollywood today. Having formed an effervescent sisterhood over the past two decades, starring alongside one another in the pregnancy yarn Baby Mama (2008) and previously working together in Mean Girls (2004) — let’s not forget the duo’s other pairings, including their co-anchor stint on the iconic news desk at Saturday Night Live (SNL) or serving as emcees for the Golden Globe Awards for several consecutive years now (2013 to 2015) — these real-life BFFs have teamed up yet again (this being their second headline partnership) for the irreverent, no holds barred Sisters; an unapologetically uproarious ‘girls’ night out’ romp (that uniformly caters for its male audience), with the queen’s of comedy proving, time and time again, that women comics can be just as funny as their male counterparts — and equally as vulgar too.
Amy Poehler and Tina Fey star as the middle-aged Ellis sisters, dysfunctional siblings who’ve constantly been very close, despite somewhat ‘going their own separate ways’ during their adult years. Older sister Kate (Tina Fey) has always been the more easy-going of the pair with the hotheaded, wayward wild-child working as a hairdresser and manicurist, though she appears to be incapable of holding a job and can’t manage to gain the respect of her teenage daughter, Hayley (Madison Davenport) who’s pretty much always jet setting away on extended trips to avoid spending time with her mother — oh, and don’t even get me started on Kate’s inconsistent housing situation. The over-apologetic, worrisome Maura (Amy Poehler) on the other hand, is a bit more dutiful, though the recent divorcee — who works as a nurse — seems to be a bit of a ‘Mrs. Fix it’ to everyone she meets, except for herself, playing is safe when it comes to her own affairs whilst working as a sounding board for Kate and her constant pubescent antics; Maura wishes Kate would act her age while Kate wants Maura to loosen up a little and simply enjoy herself.
Simmering family friction resurfaces when the women’s retired parents, Deana (Dianne Wiest) and Bucky Ellis (James Brolin), abruptly announce that they’re selling the beloved family home — a cherished location that holds scores of childhood memories for the sisters who grew up together in Florida sharing the same bedroom. Trekking back to Orlando, the girls discover that they’ve been given a single weekend to clear out their ‘old junk’ before the property’s new owners (an obnoxious yuppie couple) settle in. In an effort to recapture their glory days — reminiscing while rummaging through and sorting out their teenage artifacts (their room decked out with ’80 memorabilia) — the recently disconnected sisters, both clearly struggling to cope with the sucker-punches of adulthood, decide to throw one last high-school-style shindig … for old times sake. Looking up former classmates over social media, the women round up most of their old crew whom are all now well and truly in their 40s. With the sisters agreeing to ‘switch’ roles for the blowout, Kate accepts to take on the duty of ‘parent’ (and agrees to behave responsibly for once) — something her exasperated daughter has been wanting her mother to do for years now — while do-gooder Maura is given one night to finally let her guard down and possibly even hook up with James (Ike Barinholtz), the hunky young handyman who lives nearby — though their developing romance could prove to be a pain in the butt for James.
Predictably, the throwback bash (which the sisters aptly title ‘Ellis Island’) doesn’t get off to an awfully cathartic start as their ripened guests have all, well … aged, having been weathered and beaten by the burdens of adulthood (incorrect choices, compromises and those inevitable disappointments life brings). Following an impassioned speech by Kate, the reunion erupts into a wild, all-out rave, which, (as it turns out) is something this worn out bunch of folk may very well need, though the escalating mayhem could literally bring down the house and the entire neighborhood with it.
First things first, this freak out — a few generations down the road — is an out of control madhouse, and that’s in the best way possible. Just witnessing the chain reaction of events that lead the situation to ‘house shattering’ proportions is an outright blast. There’s a whole lot of slapping, smashing, boogying, crying and screaming going on here, not to mention water and mud, there’s a ton load of mud too; witnessing the dainty Florida ranch as it befalls destruction and finds itself utterly trashed (walls covered in graffiti, floors littered with pizza boxes and crushed or discarded plastic cups) is utterly sublime — one can literally smell and taste the party permeated odor within these scenes. With an immeasurable amount of combustible vivacity, never before has a cinematic social been this inviting, and given the age bracket of the onscreen characters, and the stage of life in which they find themselves, this sequence (well, the entire film really) resonated so strongly with me, placing me in such an empathetic state, being a young adult clutching onto my own misgivings of the past.
With a cheeky, often warped script that’s a whole-lotta-crazy, penned by the prolific Paula Pell (who’s been a sketch writer on Saturday Night Live (1975) for some years now), and directed by Jason Moore, Pitch Perfect (2012), Sisters works as a hilarious collaboration between its filmmakers and stars, with comedic alchemists Fey and Poehler bringing their exceptional improvisation skills to the table, creating characters that literally pop off screen. Tackling the promiscuous party animal with a foul mouth, Fey plays against type here as Kate Ellis while her self-doubting sister-in-crime Maura is wonderfully rendered by Amy Poehler, the women emitting a real sense of kinship and heart within all their scenes — they act and behave in a way that’s akin to real life sisters. The charismatic Fey and Poehler (unashamedly flaunting their sex appeal) possess natural talent, they’re funny without trying too hard and innocuously crude without succumbing to tasteless acts, fully embracing their roles and totally making the parts their own! And you know what, these two willing-to-do-anything 40-year-olds certainly know how to tear up the dance floor just as well as any youngster out there; this is evident when our leading ladies hop and bop to Snow’s ‘Informer’ under a flood of glaring disco lights.
Fey and Poehler are also joined by a number of equally rowdy guests; there’s local nail-salon employee Hae-Won (Greta Lee), who may or may not be a victim of oppression at her place of work — either way, she rounds up her posse and is ready to let her freak flag fly for the night; seedy liquor store owner Dave (John Leguizamo playing to his strengths), who saves the day by summoning his beefy, tattoo laden drug-dealing pal Pazuzu (John Cena), whose services help ‘raise the roof’ on the deflating get-together; and then there’s Alex (Bobby Moynihan), a pudgy nerd whom Kate recalls as being ‘exhausting,’ a jokester that’d obviously tried to be popular amongst his peers back in the day but failed miserably (probably due to his weight, social status or plain lack of wit). Here the reclusive Alex is given one final chance to shine with Moynihan, Delivery Man (2013), churning out an unmatchable performance, his energy paralleling the likes of the late Chris Farley, Tommy Boy (1995), as he darts around the sorority-decked Ellis home as if on a psychoactive sugar high, stealing every scene with his untiring antics and laugh-out-loud buffoonery. And, last but not least, we have the stuck-up Brinda (Maya Rudolph), Kate’s disagreeable senior year nemesis who’s intentionally excluded from the shindy, her disdain for the sisters edging her to covertly infiltrate or shut down the youth-reclaiming soirée no matter the cost; the raring-to-go Rudolph, Bridesmaids (2011), relishes the role and makes excellent use of her impeccable comic knack, citing the likes of Game of Thrones (2011) in her over-the-top delivery.
While Sisters doesn’t exactly break the mold, this hysterical house-party premised comedy is exceedingly entertaining despite being a tad overlong (Judd Apatow anyone?); it’s loaded with crowd-pleasing moments and carries enough quaint emotional undercurrent to satisfy, even if some of the gags do overstay their welcome (banter between Maura and Hae-Won on how to correctly pronounce each other’s name is just one example of a scene that seems to go on forever). Any which way, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s inimitable SNL-pedigree brand of humor, along with an assortment of liberated partygoers — personalities I’d gladly share a drink with — make this ‘late bloomers’ coming-of-age film a rip-roaring good time. A kegger for adults, Sisters is female-centered fun, cannily commenting on one’s identity in high-school (does that ever really change or go away?), while reminding us kidults that it’s okay to let go of our old habits and ultimately face the realities of growing up.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by S-Littner
Sisters is released through Universal Pictures Australia