Improvisation must be alternately liberating and frightening for actors. It certainly can provide fresh results and lead to a realism that is otherwise hard to harness. Alternatively, dialogue can lack polish, and a film’s structure may be too loose and meandering. It led to positive results with Lynn Shelton’s last film, Humpday, but in the case of her newest, Your Sister’s Sister, the outcome is mixed.
Set in the Northwest, the film begins with friends sharing drinks and fondly remembering Tom, a recently deceased buddy. Tom’s brother, Jack (Mark Duplass), ruins the memorial by angrily describing him in an unflattering light. Tom’s ex-girlfriend, Iris (Emily Blunt), pulls Jack aside and proposes he recoup in isolation at her family’s island house. Jack arrives at the secluded destination but discovers an attractive, barely dressed woman. Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is the lesbian sister of Iris, mourning the breakup of a seven-year relationship. Both grieving losses, Jack and Hannah connect on the first night and drink too much, leading to an awkward sexual encounter. Matters get further complicated when Iris unexpectedly visits the house and confides in her sister that she’s in love with Jack.
Based on this film and her last, Shelton seems interested in exploring jealousy and rivalry, both topics that are rife with possibility. Anyone who has a sibling or best friend has felt some level of competitiveness, no matter how badly one wants to provide unselfish love. In Humpday, the competitiveness and one-upsmanship led to two straight men daring each other to make a gay porno together. It was a twisted, high stakes goal that kept the audience riveted until the very end. In Your Sister’s Sister, siblings are competing over the attention of one man—a goal that’s less involving. Yes, the sisters’ relationship is at stake, but Jack doesn’t seem worth the fuss. The cast certainly seems to have fun with the material but while their improvisation gives the dialogue life, it also lacks a certain refinement that could’ve come from more time or a single hand. Similarly, the cinematography simply covers the action of the actors rather than guiding our eye and providing something new—likely a by-product of the improvisation and allowing the actors ample room to move where they choose. That said, it’s an intimate drama on a scale that few actors the stature of Emily Blunt venture to participate in. And outside of the occasional Nicole Holofcener film, it’s rare to see a female-centric film in American cinema today.
Director: Lynn Shelton
Writers: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mark Duplass
Release Date: June 15, 2012