Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sisters (2015)

Film: Sisters (2015)
Stars: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz, Dianne Wiest, James Brolin, John Cena
Director: Jason Moore
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are always funny.  It feels physically impossible for the two of them, when brought together, not to create some sort of massive humor and that's clearly on-display with Sisters, their rather lucrative (on what is purportedly a $30 million budget, the film has now made nearly $100 million, a tidy sum that will surely greenlight any project they want to do together in the future) new movie that is trying to coast off their mountains of goodwill from stellar performances at the Golden Globes and two massive bestsellers.  Whether or not Sisters was going to be funny was never in doubt, however, and that doesn't necessarily make it a good movie.  From the outset, the film's script is pretty sophomoric, and aside from occasionally trying to be interesting, it falls principally into cliche (look-adults can be crazy too!) and never reaches the sort of sharpness that Fey and Poehler's TV shows have so consistently achieved.

(Spoilers Ahead) Perhaps the biggest issue on display in Sisters is that its plot is exactly what you expect it to be.  On 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, while the end result usually gave us something to anticipate, the middle would get into weird and oftentimes crazy areas, a combination that made for wry and endearing humor.  The shows intelligently commented on things like groupthink and the culture around us, but Sisters is far more likely to comment on cliche.  I loved the way that Fey/Poehler reversed what you'd expect from the casting department (here Fey is playing the loser while Poehler is playing the uptight planner), but that's pretty much the only way that the film actually stops our expectations.  Every single plot point is spelled out in the trailer, from the odd relationships the two sisters have with their lives, romances, and each other, to the fact that they don't want their parents to sell their childhood home despite having little connection to the place after so many years away from it.

This cliche causes the laughter to be kept at about the minimum possible between Poehler and Fey.  The actresses, along with the likes of Maya Rudolph and Samantha Bee, are too funny not to land a few of the gags, and in particular Rudolph's uptight suburban mom and her feud with Fey's Kate is probably the film's comic high-point as it shows the pettiness of high school and how far it carries, and in particular it gives Rudolph a moment to flex her histrionic side, which we know from years of watching Saturday Night Live is a forte for her.  Otherwise, though, it's a series of mishaps and misadventures that you see coming a mile away (you just know it'll be Bobby Moynihan's joking loser that will end up taking the cocaine and the Asian nail salon stereotypes border more on the racist than the amusing).

Honestly, if it weren't Poehler and Fey I'd be fine with settling for just funny.  After all, funny is what you're hoping for and I've been to comedies many times where they couldn't even make me laugh, much less give me time to complain about the plot (this movie made me laugh, there's no doubt about that), but these two are comic geniuses, and when given strong enough writing they truly create something magical.  Paula Pell did many years at Saturday Night Live and made memorable guest spots on both actresses' TV shows, but she lacks the sharpness that Fey brought to something like Mean Girls or 30 Rock.  In a year where Melissa McCarthy hit comedic heights in Spy and Amy Schumer became a star through Trainwreck, it has to be said that Fey/Poehler, the Matthau and Lemmon of their era, should have been able to bring more of their A-Game after so much anticipation.

Those are my thoughts on these two-what are yours?  Are you disappointed like I am in how Sisters turned out, or are my expectations too high?  Are you (like me) still hoping to see something truly special from these two on the big-screen?  And when is someone going to give Maya Rudolph the lead in a movie?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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