Your Sister's Sister

(2011) ** 1/2 R
90 min. IFC Films. Director: Lynn Shelton. Cast: Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt.

/content/films/4362/2.jpgRelationships have a way of becoming needlessly complicated, as reflected by the title of the cleverly complicated relationship film Your Sister’s Sister. Writer-director Lynn Shelton (Humpday) wastes no time in (re)establishing her indie credentials and laying the groundwork for extreme awkwardness. In a well-realized opening sequence, Mark Duplass’ Jack casts a shadow over a one-year memorial get-together in honor of his late brother (who once dated Emily Blunt’s Iris): instantly, we know where he lives, and it’s a dark, if wry, place. Concerned about her friend and, perhaps, dealing with unresolved feelings of her own, Iris invites Jack to get away from it all, on his own, at a woodsy cabin belonging to her family.

But Jack arrives at the cabin to discover that it’s already occupied, by a sexy woman. That’d be Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt of United States of Tara), Iris’ lesbian sister. The ensuing drunken meeting of minds (and body parts) only becomes more—well, complicated when Iris turns up at the cabin to surprise Jack and check up on him. And Shelton has more twists in store to tangle the relationships between her three characters, but it would be ruinous of me not to let those detonate on cue.

As a three-hander, Your Sister’s Sister devotes itself to character, and the actors eagerly take advantage of the opportunity. Duplass, with his basset-hound face, has become king of the indies, and though he pushes just a bit here, contradictorily, to convey just how loose and natural he’s being, he has a strong comic sense, and he generally rises to the level of his co-stars. Blunt and the sadly unsung DeWitt deliver entirely impeccable performances, selling us on their sisterhood (despite differing accents) and the shakable but inseparable bond between them.

Shelton encourages the realistic sense of intimacy by giving the pair more than one quiet confab lying beside each other in a bed. The chamber-drama pressure cooker of the script—and, for that matter, a mere twelve-day shooting schedule—lends itself to meaty character development (as well as those hairpin plot turns), and the semi-improvisational approach works surprisingly well with this set of actors.

Unfortunately, in the third act, Shelton betrays significant strain and questionable judgement in how she sweeps up the enjoyable mess she’s created (and thus the self-conscious “open ending” won’t much feel like one to the viewer). Your Sister’s Sister turns out not to be heady in theme and may not linger long after viewing, but it’s still an enjoyable emotional wringer to be put through, in the company of a well-matched trio of actors.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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