Director: Lynn Shelton
Writer: Lynn Shelton (screenplay)
Stars: Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt

By Nandini Lal
June 15, 2012

Your Sister’s Sister
marks director Lynn Shelton’s shift from microbudget mumblecore towards mainstream. We see a change – a noticeably less shaggy-dog look overall, a big name like Emily Blunt to play the delightful Iris, and a last act that buys into rom-com conventions of safe closure. But she remains true to her spiky indie cred – her unscripted scenes and intimate close-ups ride on the pitch-perfect chemistry of the actors. Not surprisingly, the cast members have been listed as ‘creative consultants’ here.

Emily Blunt’s mobile face and offhand comments are, of course, a pure joy to behold. The other two lesser known players in this not-quite-love triangle hold their own rather well. The story is based on an idea by the film’s male lead, Mark Duplass, who once confessed to a reporter, “I look at life and I see trailers everywhere.” In Shelton’s earlier film, Humpday, he played a straight guy trying to make gay porn for an amateur film contest. In this film, he plays Iris’s dead boyfriend’s gabby, goofy brother Mark, a role that should make him a shoo-in as a poor man’s Hugh Grant. He already has upcoming dramedies that should make him the hardest working player of “slacker” characters these days. (Of course, he often jokes that he would rather run for Mission Impossible.) Duplass is one half of the writer-filmmaker brother duo behind serio-comic, patchy-on-purpose, man-child films such as Jeff, Who Lives At Home, and the very engaging Cyrus. He has come up with some of the freewheeling dialog in this film – for example, Mark’s rounded, cheeky tribute to Iris’s sister Hannah’s “soft, supple” butt, which he unwittingly glimpses on their first meeting.

Iris’s cagey, vulnerable sister, Hannah, is played by the actress Rosemarie Dewitt, who joined two days before shooting after star-catch Rachel Weiss had to leave due to schedule conflicts. DeWitt gets a meatier part here than she usually does – most viewers remember her mostly as Rachel in Rachel’s Getting Married, where she played Anne Hathaway’s sister. Like Duplass, she has also come up with some of her character Hannah’s lines. When Hannah embarrassingly talks of one of Iris’s previous serial dates who “cropped her bush”, Emily Blunt’s shocked giggles are very real – the actress sprang it on her while shooting. Filming this must have been such a lark!

Your Sister’s Sister opens with a scene of wonderfully unrehearsed naturalism at Mark’s dead brother’s one-year memorial, where Mark interrupts a friend’s eulogy by over-sharing indecorous memories about what a mean bully his brother really was. Gal pal Iris (Emily Blunt) stages an “intervention” and orders the near-jobless, still-hurting Mark to take the ferry and then cycle up to her dad’s isolated wi-fi-free island cabin in the woods. He needs to reflect upon his life – and perhaps upon the water. When Iris tells him there will be no TV, he asks if there will be any forks – just in case he needs to stab himself. On arriving there, he surprises Iris’s half-clad sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who promptly attacks him with an oar. It turns out she has repaired to the family lair after ending a seven year relationship. The two drown woes into the wee hours over tequila-fueled chats and ill-advised nanosecond sex that is spectacularly inept – and inapt, as Hannah is a lesbian. This turns out to be a very bad idea when unsuspecting Iris turns up bright and early with provisions and a sisterly confession about her secret love for Duplass.

And so we have the perfect set-up for comic riffs. We get missteps, secrets and surprises. We get vegan pancake and smelly feet on the face. There is also piquant drama over the sibling dynamic, and over Mark’s now-dubious status as Iris’s potential boyfriend. These unplanned honest but humane interactions keep it going at a fun, meandering pace. At this point, the film suddenly loses its nerve and adds an unnecessary wrinkle. Then it collapses into clichéd confrontation and disappointing vignettes of diner-and-bike lonerdom and sorority walk-in-the-woods therapy. This is the kind of film that sets us up to expect so much more. Instead, we get a pat ending where everyone just hugs it out. The open-ended last shot redeems it somewhat. Luckily for us, everything that precedes it is satisfyingly believable, messy and charged.

Nandini Lal has been a contributor and former columnist in the Asian media, a critic for magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, a freelance editor and writer.