The Sisterhood Strikes Back: Sisters

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Sisters
Directed by Jason Moore
Opens December 18

Sisters may be too formulaic to pose a challenge to the status quo and too silly to be mistaken for a manifesto, but it’s more than just another party-to-end-all-parties bromance with women in the starring roles. The plot (childishly furious that their parents have sold their childhood home, two 40-ish sisters throw one last wild party, hoping to scotch the deal, and spurring a series of epiphanies) may be as predictable as the sunset, but its strong girl-power vibe and steady thrum of rueful early-middle-aged self-awareness keep it from degenerating into the knee-jerk misogyny and mean-spirited outsider-shaming that often turn this kind of comedy into a cinematic bullying session.

True, each character is defined by just one trait—Kate (Tiny Fey), the older sister, is the irresponsible aging party girl who can’t keep a job, while Maura (Amy Poehler) is the conscientious-to-a-fault compulsive nurturer with no life of her own—but Paula Pell’s briskly paced script finds some pretty funny ways to riff on them. In one gloriously ridiculous bit, Maura empathetically asks her pedicurist for her real, Korean name, not the American one she is told to use with clients—and then proceeds to mispronounce the name while Hae-Won (a deadpan Greta Lee) sternly and steadily corrects her. The mostly verbal comedy is pretty heavy on raunch, but even the dick jokes often feel fresh, like when we spot male genitalia instead of a heart carved into the tree in the sisters’ family yard. And though there is mud wrestling by a pair of pretty girls, the two (Fey and Poehler) play it purely as messy slapstick.

Pell (who wrote for Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock) and director Jason Moore (who also directed the girl-power Pitch Perfect) wisely leave lots of space for Poehler and Fey to play in. The two are at their silly, emotional-shorthand best, their evident delight in and familiarity with one other brightening the film. Bits they’ve honed over the years, like the synchronized dance they break out in every now and again and the creative insults they improvise for themselves or each other, are simultaneously self-mocking and affirming, sublime and ridiculous.

The other characters are treated generously as well, as are the actors who play them. Kate and Maura’s parents (played by James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) start out looking like the clueless foils the parents so often are in these sorts of movies, falling repeatedly out of view during a Skype session with Maura. But they turn out to be the sanest people in the family, fed up to the gills with their clueless daughters, as Wiest, who hasn’t had a part this funny to play since Bullets Over Broadway, finally spits out in an endearingly apoplectic rant. Even Kate’s nemesis, Brenda (Maya Rudolph), is treated with compassion, her uptight social-pariah status turning out to be the result of having been ostracized years ago by her one-time friend Kate. Rachel Dratch, Samantha Bee, John Cena and Bobby Moynihan all get their moments as guests at the party, and Ike Barinholtz, so good as a buffoon on The Mindy Project, reveals a knack for romantic comedy as Maura’s laid-back love interest.

Like Bridesmaids and Spy on the big screen and a fast-growing cohort of shows—including Poehler’s and Fey’s own Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock—on the small one, Sisters is feel-good feminism, broad humor in both senses of the word.

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