Riding high on the back of three consecutive stints as hosts of Hollywood’s favourite piss-up, and after seperately top-lining two of the past decade’s most-loved comedy series, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for self-proclaimed work-wives Amy Poehler and Tina Fey to take their double-act back to theatres. Since the duo’s last co-starring venture, 2008’s coolly received, and not especially enduring Baby Mama, their respective TV ventures, 30 Rock and Parks & Recreation have dominated internet meme galleries everywhere, and established Fey and Poehler as two of their generation’s most distinctive comedic voices. Sisters, written by SNL alum Paula Pell and helmed by Pitch Perfect director Jason Moore, unites its stars in a very broad, thinly sketched set-up that only occasionally hits its comedic targets. It might offer a feminist-rebuttal to the man-child dominated comedies of the post-Apatow landscape, but considering the talent involved, Sisters promises far more than it ultimately delivers.”
We’re swiftly, separately introduced to Poehler’s Maura, a supposedly uptight divorcee and Fey’s recently fired beautician Kate, whose daughter repeatedly tells us how chaotic her life has become. Opposites established, the two are quickly reunited and as their father (James Brolin) observes, react very differently to the news that their childhood home is being sold. Revisiting their long-abandoned shared bedroom, the sisters reminisce about their wildly divergent teenage years, Kate’s diary a hotbed of illicit encounters, Maura’s only ever as racy as sponsoring an African child for her birthday. They decide to plan one blow-out party as a send-off celebration of these formative years, inviting a host of equally burned-out, equally slightly sad 40-somethings whom they haven’t seen in years. Obviously, things get a little out of hand.
At two hours, Sisters often feels stretched, particularly during its sitcommy, stilted first act. For what it promises as a gender reversal of the countless man-child comedies of the last decade, Pell’s script struggles to balance the film’s attempts at humour with any unique insight, the sisters’ eventual ‘home is a feeling’ mantra jarring with the crudeness of much of the comedy. In a frustratingly brief sequence, Kate and Maura’s entire guestlist arrives almost simultaneously, mid-life crises and pending divorces palpable in the pervasively awkward atmosphere. It’s the kind of ripe material that Poehler and Fey have previously explored with brilliant results, so it’s disappointing that the joke very quickly becomes ‘40-something’s do Project X’. Yet, while Sisters can occasionally make for frustrating viewing, particularly in the prolonged build up to the party, the film does eventually find its feet, ramping up the ridiculous and finally mining the heightened approach for some big laughs.
Of the checkered ensemble, Maya Rudolph possibly has the most fun as cartoony, wannabe Stepford wife Brinda, while the equally game Matt Oberg and Samantha Bee offer up one of the film’s most impressively audacious moments as married couple Rob and Liz attempt to relive the climax of their prom night. Following Trainwreck, John Cena further establishes himself as a scene-stealing MVP, his excellent comic-timing instilling drug connoisseur Pazuzu with a stoic, hilarious presence. Sadly, the weak link stems from Sisters centre. While Fey undoubtedly gives her all as the wildchild to Poehler’s mildchild, all the goodwill in the world can’t shake the uneasy sense of forcedness that accompanies much of Kate’s ‘antics’, whether gyrating out the car sunroof or violently assaulting a street sign. The decision to cast the duo against their supposed types works out much better for Poehler, her Maura only technically the straight woman of the pair, and allowing her to mine much of the exaggerated awkwardness she perfected over seven seasons of Parks & Rec. This is best evidenced in her disastrous attempts at flirting with lovable handyman James – played impressively straight by Mindy Project’s Ike Barinholtz – taking in intensely inappropriate questions about his parent’s death and accidentally propositioning his labrador. Even when Sisters feels like it’s going through the motions, it’s these all too infrequent moments of potentially improvised madness that save the film from outright mediocrity.