Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sismance: Fey and Poehler are just enough in passable "Sisters"

Sisters (2015)
118 min., rated R.

It's a proven fact that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler make everything better. They hosted the Golden Globes three years in a row for a reason, making an awards show more than watchable but actually unmissable. The same goes for "Sisters," a passable, just-for-shits-and-giggles house-party comedy that allows the two irrepressible comedy queens a chance to cut loose playing polar-opposite siblings and brighten an admittedly lame premise where they can. Longtime "Saturday Night Live" scribe Paula Pell and director Jason Moore (2012's "Pitch Perfect") could be more to blame when the jokes tend to be slapdash and the film runs out of steam early because it is in Fey and Poehler's delivery and interplay when the comedy stays afloat. 

Being a divorced nurse who always puts other people first, Maura Ellis (Poehler) could be mistaken for the older sister, but she's actually just the more responsible younger sister. Kate (Fey), on the other hand, is a brash, carefree single mom who's an out-of-work hairdresser and now has no place to live, and what's more, her teenage daughter Haley (Madison Davenport) is sick of not being able to count on her. Their parents, Bucky (James Brolin) and Deana (Dianne Wiest), give Maura a heads-up that they've put their Orlando childhood house on the market and moving to an adult community. They also want Maura to be the one to tell Kate the news, but when both sisters arrive at the house together, it's already been sold. When the girls are left to clean out their old bedroom, they come to an agreement that they need to throw one last party. Will it be as wild as their high school days? Will the house still be standing by morning?

Rollicking and proudly R-rated compared to the ladies' first vehicle together (2008's slightly preferable "Baby Mama"), "Sisters" is still incredibly slight and doesn't try anything daring for the post-"Bridesmaids" renaissance of women playing in the bawdy sandbox. The film has a sitcom way about it, but to go along with the laughs that work, there are slivers of truthful insight in how one's regression can begin once being back in your old bedroom and surrounding yourself with nostalgia. There is also something just undeniably amusing about two women in their 40s sleeping again in their shared childhood bedroom that remains stuck in timecomplete with stuffed animals and movie posters of "Xanadu," "Jaws" and "Out of Africa"—and was never turned into a guest room or office. The hackneyed trying-on-clothes montage gets a funny spin twofold when Maura and Kate, well, try on clothes in a fitting room: 1) they keep being told, "That looks amazing on you," by an indifferent clothing store associate named Brayla (Emily Tarver) and 2) Maura's realization that they should wear clothes more their age comes with the line, "We need a little less Forever 21 and a little more Suddenly 42." When director Jason Moore and screenwriter Paula Pell don't try so hard for laughs, as in an outrageous gross-out where Maura's ballerina music box gets stuck inside of neighborly love interest James (Ike Barinholtz), the film is better for it.

In a role reversal, Tina Fey is broader and cast against-type as a foul-mouthed party-goer who needs to learn to be more maternal rather than the bookish straight gal and Poehler is playing more of a goody two-shoes who needs to put herself out there. Because of their established bond, these two already make a dynamite pair, completely at ease with each other and game to go for it. They're having so much fun making a movie that it's hard not to feel the same way. Only they can make rambling, improv-heavy bits funnier the longer they go on, such as Poehler's Maura trying to pronounce "Hae-Won," the name of a Korean manicurist (Greta Lee). In supporting roles, Ike Barinholtz (whose face makes him look like a long-lost Wahlberg brother but last name says otherwise) has an easy charm as James, whom Maura tries to awkwardly seduce, and Maya Rudolph has a ball as Kate's high school frenemy Brinda who enunciates everything and prides herself on being successful.

Frequently silly and tartly humored, "Sisters" still doesn't always live up to the talents of its leading ladies. Even with the jokes' occasional misfire and the film getting bogged down in story conflicts that hinge on characters lying to one another, Fey and Poehler are the party and they have effortless chemistry. The film also casts a wide net of comedic back-up from "SNL," both past and present, and other sketch-comedy pros. Bobby Moynihan, as a desperately unfunny classmate who tries making people laugh even when he sniffs a quarter of coke, strains and bombs, but Rachel Dratch is a dependable hoot as a party guest who gets sad about time passing her by the more drunk she gets. And, once again this year after his scene-stealing turn in "Trainwreck," wrestling star John Cena proves to be the Breakout Comedy Star of 2015, this time as a no-smiles drug dealer. It's a wonder Fey and Poehler don't just put their smart, funny heads together and write their own stuff, but when they do, their next project together will be just as smart and funny as them. In all of 118 minutes of "Sisters," these two at least make it a more diverting time than it probably has any reason to be.

Grade: B - 

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