Whatever else “Sisters” does or doesn’t manage to do, at least it manages to be periodically funny, which by itself sets it apart from most of the dreadful crop of self-styled comedies that have infested multiplexes for the past year or so. Directed by Jason Moore (“Pitch Perfect”) from a script by the longtime SNL writer Paula Pell, “Sisters” musters enough laughs during its nearly two hour running time to be entertain, albeit in a very TV sitcom sort of way.
That being said, “Sisters” more than earns its R rating, mainly on language, sexual situations and references, and drug use. There’s been plenty of those commodities in recent comedies. What sets “Sisters” apart is that the libidinous, drunken partiers in this movie are all fortysomethings. Tina Fey plays against type as Kate Ellis, a hot mess and perennial loser at the game of life, whose teenage daughter Haley (Madison Davenport) frequently scolds her for irresponsibility. Kate is in fact so exasperating that the audience may well spend the first ten minutes or so of the movie wishing a house would fall on her.
Fey’s frequent partner in crime and comedy, Amy Poehler, plays Kate’s obsessive/compulsive sister Maura. Poehler is in full goody two shoes mode here, cheerfully completing the movie’s role reversal with its female leads. As attested to by excerpts from the diaries the sisters kept in high school, Kate was the girl mothers didn’t want their sons dating while Maura was prudent to the point of prudish. And if Maura at least has a career, neither character actually seems happy with her life.
Kate has cornered herself into a state of virtual homelessness, and is actually considering trying to move back in with her parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) only to find they’re actually selling their old house in favor of a smaller condo and a busier sex life. In fact, the parents have actually already moved out, and the only room not packed up is Kate and Maura’s old bedroom, which they’re given a weekend to clean out. The parents’ easy-going, contented retirement is all but a rebuke to the midlife frustration of their daughters, who clearly they’d like to be rid of.
At this point, the movie switches gear and becomes a raucous party movie in the mold of “Project X,” as the sisters invite most of their former classmates for a last bash that turns into a drug and alcohol-fueled unofficial high school reunion. The thing is, it’s actually far funnier watching the initially uptight fortysomethings cut loose and turn the gathering, initially and understandably mistaken for a wake, into a rave. Some of the humor comes from sheer physical comedy, as the house’s market value drops as the property damage mounts, some from watching snubbed mean girl Maya Rudolph’s increasingly desperate attempts to crash the party. As in most modern shock comedies, it’s always instructive to see which groups Hollywood is still willing to stereotype – here it appears to be young Asian women and lesbians. The uptight Maura’s attempts to seduce hunky neighbor Ike Barinholtz are genuinely funny. (Barinholtz provides some of the movie’s biggest laughs during an awkward close encounter with a music box ballerina.)
The party is standard post-”Hangover” stuff, but it keeps “Sisters” from turning into the high angst indie drama it frequently threatens to become, thank God. A few lengthy soliloquies and a plink-plunky piano score could have taken it there in a heartbeat. Best when it allows itself to be just a little mean-spirited, “Sisters” is unremarkable, and won’t lose a thing on Redbox, but at least it’s entertaining.
“Sisters” is now playing at theaters across the Capital District, including the Regal Cinemas Clifton Park Stadium 10 & RPX, the Bow Tie Cinemas Movieland 6 in Schenectady, the Regal Cinemas Colonie Center Stadium 13 & RPX, the Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas 11 & BTX in Saratoga Springs, the Regal Cinemas Crossgates Stadium 18 & IMAX, the Regal Cinemas East Greenbush 8 and the Bow Tie Wilton Mall Cinemas & BTX.