Nobody loves you like your sister. That’s even true when your sister is Tina Fey… Or Amy Poehler… Or especially if Tiny Fey and Amy Poehler are on-screen siblings that are desperate to recapture their youth with an ill-advised house party, as one last big blowout before their parents sell their childhood home.
Such is the premise of Sisters, a high-profile Holiday comedy that has predictably been clobbered at the box office by the mammoth blockbuster, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Should you have no interest in said Force awakening however, or perhaps have already experienced it on more than one occasion, you might be asking yourself if Sisters is worth the trip. After all, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are two of the biggest women in comedy today, and pairing them up can only lead to great things, especially when the two are such close friends in real life, following their SNL days.
Well, the previous proper union between Fey and Poehler on the big screen, who became very busy with their respective (and now wrapped) television stints on 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation shortly afterward, was Baby Mama, a rather average 2008 comedy that didn’t seem to make the most of either of their talents. Now, the two are re-teaming for something at least a little less restrained, as Sisters now sports an R-rating, and a better cast. It’s also thankfully a better movie than Baby Mama, even if it will still likely be lost in the sea of more high-profile Holiday movie releases this year.
Sisters treads across some familiar territory with its lead personalities, but Fey and Poehler make the duo of titular sisters plenty enjoyable to watch. Fey portrays Kate Ellis, a live-out-loud single mom and struggling hairstylist who has the respect and admiration of no one, and whose daughter even finds to be a nuisance and a failure. Poehler portrays Maura Ellis, a straight-laced nurse who is recently divorced, and is a pathological over-thinker who is fatally unable to have fun. It sounds like a dream idea for a TV sitcom with Fey and Poehler as the leads, in a hypothetical universe where Fey and Poehler’s big personalities would fit together on the small screen.
If you think you know where the movie is going from that very pitch, you’re probably right. Kate and Maura must confront their respective issues using the positive influence of their sister, despite their sister appearing to be equally maladjusted. They also inevitably spend time swapping perspectives, and thus gaining a higher appreciation for their family. Predictably, everything centers around this journey, with the other characters coming off as background noise while Fey and Poehler dominate the screen together.
Only occasionally does the movie truly incorporate the perspectives of other characters. Kate’s daughter is another interesting device to help further along the coming-of-age plot, though she doesn’t have very much screentime. You see a little bit more of the Ellis sisters’ parents though, Bucky and Deana Ellis, played by James Brolin and Dianne Wiest, respectively, who, rather distractingly, also portray the parents of the adult leads in popular new CBS sitcom, Life in Pieces. That’s a strange coincidence. Anyway, Bucky and Deana are coming into a new phase of their own life, and predictably run into their own conflict when their daughters don’t seem to want to move on with them. Again, this probably ends up panning out exactly the way you think it does.
The rest of the personalities are mainly gag characters, meant to flesh out the all-important house party that anchors most of Sisters’ jokes and storytelling. Maya Rudolph shows up to provide something of a childhood rival to Kate, in the form of put upon social outcast, Brinda, while Ike Barinholtz offers a love interest for the sexually inept Maura in James, an attractive neighbour that Kate puts Maura up to flirting with, and ultimately inviting to the party. They’re all plot devices, and they’re all ways to service the characters of Kate and Maura above anyone else. At least they’re reasonably funny though, even if this is purely Fey’s and Poehler’s show.
Sisters’ storyline is exceedingly simple, and has even been done in plenty of other coming-of-age comedies. The entire movie seems to be marketed on the fact that this particular movie has Fey and Poehler driving it, and I suppose that’s fair enough, since Sisters is a far better big screen team-up between the comedians than Baby Mama ever was.
Being great comedians though, Fey and Poehler don’t allow the movie to degrade into simple silliness. Sisters manages some pretty heartfelt and dramatic moments between the two as well, and even if the lead-in to said drama does involve a lot of devil-may-care goofiness, the destination is still worth the journey. Sure, the movie seems to be structured so that Fey and Poehler can play off of each other as much as possible, and that doesn’t leave either of them wanting for generating laughs, but that doesn’t make Sisters an airheaded vanity project at the same time, which it easily could have been.
Neither its comedy or its drama is anything outstanding, but as a feel-good coming-of-age movie, Sisters still tells a good, if somewhat familiar story. At least the R-rating means that Fey and Poehler can fully let loose with the comedy though, even if not every joke lands. At least this isn’t a situation where all of the good jokes were given away in the trailers though.
Sisters is directed by Jason Moore, who has already proven that he knows his way around girl power comedies to Universal, after helming 2012’s enormously successful Pitch Perfect. Now allowed to work with an R-rating, and two especially outstanding leads, Moore seems to know what the score is with Sisters. He mainly allows Fey and Poehler to anchor the piece on their own terms, understanding that these two women don’t need much micromanaging, especially in a movie that’s so straightforward.
It’s not good to let certain parties of actors run wild, but Fey and Poehler seem to be able to recognize their own need for restraint, so even with Moore’s mostly undemanding direction, the movie chugs along just fine. Fey and Poehler keep the laughs coming without sacrificing the heart of the movie, and are clearly given liberal room to improvise with the seemingly loose script. Moore still carefully coordinates a few of the especially large pre-set gags, namely regarding the handful of slapstick moments, when necessary, but he also appropriately plays to the movie’s main strengths, which are obviously Fey and Poehler.
Sisters is clearly a movie that is structured solely around Tina Fey and Amy Poehler goofing off together, and for the most part, this alone makes for a funny and uplifting Holiday comedy. The final portions of the movie manage to make all of the silliness lead somewhere nicely heartwarming as well, making Sisters a cozy feel-good romp that adult women especially will get a great kick out of, especially if they bring their own sister that they may be quite close with.
The sheer talent of Fey and Poehler will also make Sisters worth viewing for men simply seeing a good comedy as well, especially when some of the movie’s coming-of-age themes do manage to be universal among adult audiences. The movie’s R-rating ultimately benefits its lead actresses as well, since Fey and Poehler are two personalities that you likely don’t want to shackle when they’re in a movie together, even in terms of letting them swear, and deliver more crude and sexual humour.
Yes, you’ll obviously want to prioritize the (great!) Star Wars: The Force Awakens on your Holiday trips to the movie theatre, but if you’re in the mood for a more simple, reliable comedy to unwind with, then Sisters is probably going to be up your alley. It’s nothing revolutionary, or even all that memorable, but much like the sheer principle of pairing up Fey and Poehler in a movie, Sisters proves that sometimes, simplicity is the best thing for the Holiday season.
- Fey and Poehler are a fun team, as usual
- Some especially funny supporting actors
- Lovable, heartwarming conclusion
- Story is very by-the-numbers
- Most of the supporting actors aren't given much to do