January 27, 2023

“Your Sister’s Sister” – The value of improvisation

Having premiered at several of the big film festivals earlier this year without much attention, and due for a summer release amongst a bevy of blockbusters, Lynn Shelton’s very funny comedy/drama starring Mark Duplass and Emily Blunt will probably go largely unnoticed by most filmgoers this year. But the film’s genial exploration of human relationships and spectacular use of a mostly improvised script should provide a worthy alternative to this year’s heavy reliance on superheroes.

Duplass plays Jack, a grieving man who lost his brother Tom a year ago, and is struggling to move on with his life. Jack’s best friend is Iris (Blunt), who suggests that Jack go and stay in her family’s secluded summer house in order to gain some perspective and deal with his issues. However, once Jack arrives he finds Iris’s sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) also inhabiting the family house in order to deal with her recent break-up from a long-term lesbian relationship. Jack and Hannah, after some awkward introductions, get drunk together and end up in the sack (if only for a short-lived, haphazard romp).

The next day, Jack and Hannah are awoken by the unannounced arrival of Iris, who has come to surprise Jack, which sparks some illuminating revelations between the trio.

When asked about the story of the film, Shelton said: “My eternal interest as an artist is the self and how we perceive ourselves and what happens when we come face to face with the fact that our perception is not always in line with the reality of where we’re really at. Those kinds of situations when we rouse ourselves and become self-aware, and then what we do at those moments, are fascinating to me. That often happens when we bump up against other human beings.” Indeed, the film is laden with difficult moments of self-analysis and life evaluation, which makes for a compelling plotline.

The themes of Your Sister’s Sister are remarkably simple, but effective. There are two strong motifs running parallel during the movie: first, the enduring topic of how to traverse a difficult moment in one’s life. Not only is Jack attempting to put his brother’s death behind him, he is also getting to grips with his guilty attraction to Iris. Iris suffers similarly with her own feelings for Jack, and Hannah seems to be on a mission of self-destruction. The second theme is that of sibling relationships. Shelton comments, “I particularly liked being able to explore sibling relationships. There are two strong ones in this movie – it just happens that one of the siblings is dead. Those relationships were what interested me”.

Using a mostly improvised script, the film creates some brilliant moments of earnest poignancy, whilst allowing these vivid characters room to breathe. The comedy is a fluid, natural side-effect of the improvisation, which acts as a perfect partner to the bitter-sweet drama unfolding. The two seem to co-exist with considerable amounts of heart and tenderness.

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