This is a great movie for fans of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler who are OK with laughing until they cry at dirty jokes that have no right being that funny. Anybody who’s just one, the other, or neither, should probably steer clear and go see Star Wars.
For those of you left in that small camp, you’ve hit a gold mine. Sisters is hilarious in all the worst ways, one of those movies you feel bad for laughing so hard at and enjoying so much. Maybe that’s what makes Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in combo so good - they can land some of the nastiest punchlines by making them feel as awkwardly spontaneous as crude jokes should. That chemistry is the most significant thing about the film. The story could be a lot worse, but any movie that bookends an hour-long party plot with brief sympathy-building scenes could be better.
Tina and Amy play to their strength of playing off each other as polar-opposite sisters Kate (Fey) and Maura (Poehler). Kate is a struggling single mom running a beauty salon out of her friend’s bathroom. Maura is a well-off divorcee who works as a nurse and spends her free time handing out sunscreen and homemade proverb cards to homeless people. Their retiring parents call Maura to hesitantly reveal the news that they’re selling their family home and need the girls to come clean out their rooms. They don’t want to tell Kate themselves, knowing she’ll overreact, and leave it to Maura.
Maura also opts out of this responsibility, instead submitting her more austere personality to her sister’s exuberance. On their loud drive to the house, they stop off for beer, flirt with the handyman, James (Ike Barinholtz), across the street, and blare their music. This early party screeches to a halt when they see the SOLD sign already in their yard. After physically throwing a tantrum in the yard, Kate follows Maura into the empty house and a nostalgic montage through a classic 80s childhood, neon sweaters and dorky diary entries included.
I’ll credit director Jason Moore with this one - the sequence emotionally de-ages Kate and Maura back into restless teenagers who want to lash out at their parents who just don’t get them. The obvious solution? Throw a wild party, one last insane night in their childhood home, purportedly to give uptight Maura an experience she never had, but Kate also has unfinished business with her younger days. She struggles to support her daughter, the actual teen in the family who protests that she’s the adult to her mother. Kate gets caught in an increasingly complicated ruse to trick both her family and her daughter into believing she’s got her life under control while the party she’s tending simultaneous spirals out of control.
A better title to this movie might be Grown-Ups instead of Sisters, because all the adult relationships here are battling immaturity, not just the siblings’. Kate and Maura’s parents want to shove off their caretaking duties, Maura wants to avoid trying to have an honest romantic relationship again, Kate wants to hold on to the fantasy that she can live care-free and still have life work out, and all the 30 and 40 somethings who go berserk at the party only do so after a rousing speech calling them back to their supposedly awesome youth - that, and a few dozen shots.
It’s tough to say whether or not this film has a point beyond letting us guffaw at Tina and Amy’s ridiculousness. If it did, it could be, “Recapturing a little of your youth helps you figure out what matters in life,” or “Going crazy at messed up parties really can’t fix everything,” both of which are more or less admirable messages for a comedy. But by the end whatever message you want to try and pull out of this film is half-hearted compared to the all-out spectacle of the party (see the Caveat Spectator section for a not entirely spoiler-free point by point).
I don’t recommend seeing this movie with parents, older relatives, children, really anybody outside of a five-year buffer on either side of your age. It’s good stuff for a fun night out with friends, and not much else.
Take everything you think would go into an R-rated movie about the wildest party of the century and add some remarkable creativity, and you’ll arrive at something close to how crazy this movie is. To get the language note out of the way: it’s colorful, near-constant, and used for a lot more than just cursing. There are a few mildly racist comments about workers at a Korean nail salon. Pretty much the whole movie is fueled by alcohol. There’s a lot of explicit drug use, and one character nearly overdoses by snorting a questionable mixture of powders, but the scene when the girls buy the drugs from a tattooed John Cena is one of the funniest in the movie. A group of out lesbians are invited to the party, accompanied by a number of tasteless jokes and stereotypes. Maura spends most of the film trying to sleep with James.
And that’s just the tame stuff. I had to keep an obscene gesture counter in my notes; the final tally was seven, and one involved a character using his genitalia to draw genitalia on a wall using cake. Speaking of, there are at least three crudely-drawn pictures of male genitalia shown. The sisters walk in as their elderly parents try to hide the fact that they’d be interrupted having sex. As two characters are trying to sleep together, one trips, falls, and ends up with a childhood toy stuck into a truly unfortunate spot. During what’s sort of supposed to be the film’s climactic scene, a married couple takes advantage of the distracted crowd to have poorly-concealed sex in public. Remarkably, there’s no real nudity, but there’s enough skimpy clothing and awkward camera framing that we don’t need to see it to know it’s there.
Jessica Gibson is a former intern with Christianity Today Movies and a student at The King’s College in New York City. She tweets only to fangirl and gripe @GibbyTOD.