' ' Cinema Romantico: Go For Sisters

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Go For Sisters

"Go For Sisters" opens with a parole officer, Bernice (Lisa Gay Hamilton), listening to a client tell a sob story with a fair amount of resonance as to why she violated the terms of her prison release. Bernice waits until she's finished and then, even-keeled, gives no quarter, advising her parolee that she did what she did and that it was a breach of the rules, end of story. She tells the trainee listening in how each day is filled with these stories, these desperate attempts to be let off the hook, and how you have to tamp down your emotions and do your job.

Then Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) enters and sits down and tells a sob story with a fair amount of resonance as to why she violated the terms of her prison release. It's a mirror image of the preceding moment aside from one crucial detail: Fontayne was Bernice's best friend in a previous life. They were so close they were essentially sisters. In the years since they have drifted apart, but here they are, all of a sudden, back together. Bernice cuts her a break.

You never take sides against the family as another generally known film once taught us, and "Go For Sisters" is all about the way in which family, blood or by choice, affects the characters' decision-making. When the cops come calling for Bernice's son and he disappears, apparently south of the nearby border where he has possibly become involved in the smuggling of illegal Chinese aliens into the states, she will have to set aside the morally rigorous attitude her job has cultivated to find him. And to find him, she needs the help of her once-lost, now-found faux-sibling, Fontayne, and her criminal contacts.

That's a scenario tinged in contrivance, Bernice's chance reunion with the person who can help her most, yet "Go For Sisters" is much more concentrated on behavior in spite of its substantial plotting. For such an imperative mission the film's pace is noticably non-urgent, John Sayles, who wrote, directed and edited, being far more content to let the relationship between the two women work as the film's true heartbeat. And the gregarious Hamilton and laid-back Ross forge a credible dynamic, one in which their friendship is slowly re-kindled.

There is, however, an eventual (and welcome) interloper in this buddy "cop" dynamic. Needing someone more familiar with the finer points of investigative work, Bernice and Fontayne are directed to a retired cop, Freddy Suarez, played by Edward James Olmos in a superb performance of supreme gravelly authenticity, magnetically low-key. He is a man with a degenerative eye disease and debt brought on not by foolish choices but by the ways of the world. He accepts the work because he needs the cash, and in the film's funniest moment, he rips up the "For Rent" sign on his lawn when he gets paid and casts it aside.

These three form your traditional un-traditional family, and observing them as they press forward makes for an engagingly low-key experience. The driving story point of Bernice's son sort of strangely falls out of focus, even it's wrapped up, and curiously Sayles, often a supremely socially conscious filmmaker, seems less interested here in the socio-politics of the region, and also not quite as invested in milieu. But maybe that's on purpose. "This isn’t Mexico," Suarez says dismissively of Tijuana. "This is like a theme park for bad behavior."

To see the way it all works is to understand why so many might try such foolhardy ventures to flee it. As such, our trio, all fueled by different forms of desperation, come to symbolize all those would-be immigrants trying to make it into America from points south, fueled by desperation of their own.

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