Filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s new comic chamber piece, Your Sister’s Sister, has an uncanny ear for the dynamics between adult sisters and a firm grasp on the identity of a young man going through a period of crisis. As in her first feature, Hump Day, she offers an insightful examination of personal and sexual interplay where lines of loyalty and sexuality blur. It’s also an actors’ showcase featuring few locations, lengthy scenes of dialogue and an appealingly run-on sense of improvisation. Here is a movie where we get the sense that the actors knew their characters so well that their freewheeling discussions, however scripted, feel organic and true.
The film opens at a party commemorating the life of a recently deceased friend and loved one. The decedent’s brother, Jack (Mark Duplass), goes a bit off the rails, and his best friend (and brother’s former girlfriend), Iris (Emily Blunt), intervenes and offers him a respite from both his apparent alcohol and avoidance issues—a stay of solitude at her family’s idyllic and remote lake cabin.
Complications ensue when the cabin isn’t exactly empty—Iris’ half-sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is already in residence, fleeing from the break of her seven-year lesbian relationship. Hannah and Jack are kindred spirits in a sense, and you can see where this is headed—the pair bond over hard liquor (in a long scene that gives the actors room to breathe) and end up having a very brief sexual encounter that surprises them both.
When morning comes and Iris decides to pop by, she’s happily surprised that her beloved sister has taken refuge there and decides to stay as well, creating what we expect will be a farcical sex comedy as Jack and Hannah try a little too hard to hide the evidence of their fling. But we ask ourselves why, exactly, this would matter to Iris? After all, she and Jack are only best friends, right? Or is something else at stake?
As in Humpday, about two heterosexual best friends who decide to have sex together on camera to enter a contest, Shelton goes in a different direction, eschewing the obvious uproar to dig for deeper truths.
It turns out that none of the three is really what he or she seems to be on the surface. There’s an appealing quality here to the performing that never feels written and always seems like spur-of-the-moment dialogue and development. Some of the revelations are welcome, including unexpressed feelings both Jack and Iris share, but another regarding Hannah’s true agenda is the only piece of the picture that feels slightly contrived, though it does give Jack a very nice monologue in the denouement.
What resonates most here is the relationship between the sisters. Both Blunt and DeWitt, an underused and underrated actress, create distinct women with opposite lives, habits, manners of expression, yet together onscreen they are in perfect sync.
Duplass is a most original comedian, but he never goes for guffaws, even in comedic set-ups where he could get them, like the unlikely (and very brief) sex scene. His humor is that of an awkward boy-man, a guy on the margins, aware that he’s slightly off center but trying to be a better guy. As one-half of the brotherly filmmaking duo (along with Jay) that made The Puffy Chair, Baghead, Cyrus and Jeff Who Lives at Home, he has an affable, non-Alpha energy and casualness about him, as well as great humor, which he also shared in Humpday. He and Shelton seem to have a real groove together—spontaneous, witty and original.