July 8, 2020

Sisters – raucous comedy with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey

Sisters told by parents to clean their room
Hold get-laid party lacking va va voom

“Quotes are usually short,” says nurse Maura Ellis (Amy Poehler) after reading a written demand for an apology from her big sister Katie (Tina Fey) who is angry that her daughter Hayley (Madison Davenport) has been secretly living with her aunt rather than a close friend. To which Katie replies, “So are dicks, but sometimes you hit the jackpot.” Unfortunately for director Jason Moore, who made his directorial debut with the a cappella comedy Pitch Perfect, and writer Paula Pell, a sketch writer for Saturday Night Live who has penned a couple of episodes of the award-winning sitcom 30 Rock, the plot drags and the punchlines land far from the bullseye.

Screen Shot 2015 12 22 at 10 11 45

Mom and Pop Ellis (a twinkly-eyed Dianne Wiest and stilted James Brolin) have sold the family home and asked their daughters to come back to Orlando to clean out their “bottomless pit” of a bedroom. Katie, a scatter-brained beauty therapist, is made homeless after one of her waxing strips is found in the faeces of her landlady’s mutt. Maura, a well-meaning but misguided divorcee who mistakes a construction worker for a tramp and offers him a can of deodorant (the comedy bar is set pretty low), is struggling to adjust to singledom and cites teaching herself to make cheese as the highlight of her Bridget Jones existence.

Side by side on their old twin beds, they flick through diary entries and reminisce about their childhoods. “It’s a damn shame you never had your night here,” says Katie. Referring to the teenage rite of passage: sex in your bedroom. With nostalgia and oestrogen swirling in the air and time running out before the family home is sold to a wealthy couple with attitude, Katie decides to combine a farewell party with an opportunity for her sister to pop her “post-divorce flirt cherry”. Maura agrees, on one condition: Katie plays “party Mom” so that she can let her “freak flag fly”.
Chaos ensues. A sweaty DIY man who Maura has the hots for (Ike Barinholtz) gets impaled on a ballerina music box set in the eye-watering position of high fifth. An old friend-turned-foe (Maya Rudolph), who “always looks like she has a fart coming out sideways”, gate-crashes proceedings and kicks up a rumpus. And a gang of butch lesbians who “hold the best parties” pump up the volume and turn polite conversation into a bacchanalian orgy of pot smoking, binge drinking and cocaine sniffing as the forty-something thrill-seekers lower their inhibitions and, quite literally, raise the roof.

It sounds a hoot. And judging by the blooper outtakes at the end of the film, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had a ball with their improvisational riffs and endless corpsing. However, whether it’s because I am neither American nor female, the humour got lost in translation. Granted, some of the sketches tickle the funny bone, particularly the exchange between Maura and her Korean manicurist Hae-Won as they mispronounce one another’s names. But misunderstandings over juice and Jews, double entendres that would give Julian Clary a run for his pink pound (“We’re looking for a yardman to work our bushes”) and shoe-horned reflections about “A house is just a building, a home is a feeling” don’t cut the Colman’s.

“Good things are hidden in the quiet,” says Katie in response to relationship-shy Maura’s confession that she finds the silence of her DIY boyfriend uncomfortable. There may, indeed, be good things in Sisters, but amid all the raucousness you’d be hard-pressed to find a quiet or for that matter subtle moment in which to appreciate them.

Verdict: 2/5
by Peter Callaghan

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