by / June 28th, 2012 /

Your Sister’s Sister

Review by on June 28th, 2012

 3/5 Rating

Director: Lynn Shelton
Cast: Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt
Certificate: 15
Running Time: 90 min
Release Date: 29 June

Filmed over twelve days on a budget in the region of $120,000, Lynn Shelton’s largely improvised comic-drama is a charming if slight affair. Light on plot and limited to three actors and one location, the film relies heavily on its likeable cast. Thankfully they – and Shelton – deliver.

Mark Duplass plays Jack, a dishevelled and directionless young man still mourning the death of his brother. When his late brother’s friends gather to celebrate his life, Jack accuses them of only remembering his brother’s good qualities. He is clearly hurting so best friend Iris, played by Emily Blunt, takes it upon herself to stage an ‘intervention’ and sends Jack to her dad’s island cabin to face his grief in peace. Instead Jack arrives to find the cabin already occupied by Iris’ step-sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt). Following a tense introduction Jack and Hannah – a lesbian who’s just walked out on her partner – bond over tequila before sleeping together. They awake to anticipated hangovers and regret, and the unexpected arrival of Iris, who secretly harbours feelings for Jack. It might sound like an episode of Frasier, but Shelton’s film largely eschews the artifice of farce in favour of subtle truisms.

Working from a seventy page outline, Shelton and her collaborators improvise around various low-key scenarios (dinner, breakfast), all the while referencing themes like friendship and brother/sisterhood, and advancing the narrative at key points. Shelton and Duplass honed their improvisational skills on Shelton’s earlier feature Humpday and it was Duplass, a writer/director (Jeff, Who Lives at Home) as well as an actor who pitched Shelton the concept for Your Sister’s Sister. However, the ‘creative consultant’ credit also extends to Blunt and DeWitt. While all three actors offer heartfelt performances, enormous credit goes to DeWitt who only joined the project three days before filming commenced after Rachel Weisz dropped out.

Wholly engaging and so naturalistic at times it seems to transcend the film and enter a quasi-realm of ‘filmed life’, the improvisational style perfectly captures the awkwardness of the scenario. However, the style is less successful when forced to expedite the demands of the plot and certain revelations feel rushed or clunky. That aside, this is a modest and likeable drama with its heart in the right place.