' Cinema Romantico: Re-visiting (Re-seeing) Your Sister's Sister

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Re-visiting (Re-seeing) Your Sister's Sister

When I first saw Lynn Shelton's "Your Sister's Sister" back in June I was spellbound by the three lead performances of Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt and for the first sixty minutes figured I was seeing one of the best films of the year. But upon the arrival of the "twist" after the sixty minute mark, coupled with a figuring-things-out montage and a closing shot heralding a post-film life that seemed well past the point of ridiculous, the movie had lost me.


Yet......those performances. Oh, those performances! (And I will have a few more things to say about those performances in the coming weeks, believe me.) They drew back me in to a re-watch. And for a second time I was spellbound by the first hour while mentally preparing myself for the severe downward slope of the final thirty minutes. And then......

Before I go further I should stress that I will be giving away EVERYTHING. The "twist", the reveals, the end, the whole indie-scented bouquet. Thus, if you still wish to see "Your Sister's Sister", and you should, and see it cold, check out for now and check back in later.

Obligatory background: The brother of Jack (Duplass) has died. Jack's best friend and his brother's ex Iris (Blunt) sends Jack off to her father's cabin in the woods for bit of "finding yourself" time. Except Iris's sister Hannah (DeWitt) is already there for the same reason. Jack and Hannah drunkenly hook up. Iris turns up the next day. Iris confesses to Hannah that she loves Jack. And whatever you may think of this synopsis solely from reading it, you have to SEE it to truly appreciate the natural wonder with which these three act it all out.


Reveal: Hannah wants to have a baby. Jack panics. Hannah reminds them they used a condom when having sex. Jack settles down, but not for long. He tracks down the condom. He tests it. Ye gods, Hannah poked holes in it. As this is happening, Hannah is off in the woods with Iris confessing she had sex with Jack. This leads to......

The Traditional Shouting Match: Iris, Hannah and Jack all right in a row. Iris shouts at Jack for having sex with Hannah. Jack shouts that Hannah poked holes in the condom to get herself pregnant. Hannah shouts at Iris that she never would have slept with Jack if she had known Iris loved Jack. Which, of course, Jack did not know. Which, of course, means in the span of, what, 40 seconds every secret has been spilled on account of all the shouting.

Now, I was willing to forgive the Holes-in-the-Condom Reveal, but what I was not willing to forgive was The Traditional Shouting Match. Dammit, a movie that had been this good was so far ABOVE a Traditional Shouting Match. Could these secrets not have been revealed less noisily? But what was even worse was that then the movie proceeded directly into......


The Figuring-Things-Out Montage. Heaven help us, I remember thinking, as it unfolded on that movie screen in June. Jack goes off for a bike ride through the countryside. Iris and Hannah remain at the cabin but remain silent. They just sort of mope around, ignoring one another, until, at some point, they reach out to one another, make tiny inroads, and then seem to apply the first significant patch back to their fractured relationship. At which point Jack turns up in order to give......

A Big Speech. He's messed up. This, that, and everything else, but he loves Iris and wants to be with her and he wants to help Hannah in whatever way helping her may entail. And the movie ends with the shot of them huddled around Hannah's pregnancy test before fading to black before we learn the result. Not that the result mattered either way because, quoting myself from my original review, "What sort of future obstacles await? Dozens, I assume. There is a moment earlier when Jack tells Iris and Hannah that there should be no whispering behind anyone's back. But just imagine the whispers that will be going on behind their backs after all is said and done."

And yet - yet!!! - as I watched the movie a second time, different things came into focus and I wondered if perhaps I had it all wrong. I wondered if perhaps Lynn Shelton was using all the tropes not as crutches but as ammunition. Hear me out.

For an hour we have a film packed with brilliant unpolished dialogue, masterfully delivered with easy grace, but even more so we have three characters in a small setting that are RIGHT ON TOP OF EACH OTHER. Iris wants to sleep with Jack and Jack did sleep with Hannah and they are all tip-toeing around each other and drawing closer and closer and closer until there is no room to hide anything any longer and then WHOOSH! It all thunders out in the Traditional Shouting Match.


And once they have shouted, once they and all their secrets have all crashed right up against each other, for the first time ALL film, the talking stops. Jack goes for his elongated bike ride and does not talk. Iris and Hannah stare daggers and do not talk. No one talks. They retreat inside themselves. I was recently listening to Judd Apatow's interview on NPR's Fresh Air and he was talking about how noisy our minds are and how we have to find a way to quiet them down. That's what this montage is presenting - the three characters trying to quiet their minds down.

Which leads to that last shot which, in a very real way, harkens back to the beginning of the film, which I had not thought of when composing my original review, when everyone is toasting Jack's deceased brother with whimsical stories of his only his best of times and Jack offers a story of his worst of times. "If we're going to toast the man," he says, "let's the toast man." As in, let's toast the WHOLE man, not just the specific part of the man you want to remember.

This last shot honoring the WHOLE movie, not just specific parts of the movie we want to remember. This movie, like life, in the end, is beautiful, complicated and really, really fucked up. What happens next? Who knows?

But what I do know is that I don't know whether everything I just wrote is something I truly mean or whether I'm attempting to justify the remainder of the film in my own mind merely because I love the performances that much. Because I do think I love the performances so much that I would be willing to lie to myself to make it seem like the end of the movie is okay when it's actually not. Which, come to think of it, contrary to what I just said, is exactly what the characters might actually be doing in that last shot.

I'm so confused.

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