Your Sister’s Sister

Casual, amiably observant, and bruisingly funny, Your Sister’s Sister is another winning study of relational boundaries crossed and sexual dares gone awry, an uncharacteristically easy take on a genre that has been in disrepair for a long time. It captures human relationships with charm, warmth, and engaging insight.

Jack (Mark Duplass, Greenberg, writer-director of Cyrus) is invited by his best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt, The Adjustment Bureau), to spend a week at her father’s isolated island cabin. Expecting solitary contemplation, Jack unexpectedly meets Iris’ sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married), who has recently broken up with her lesbian partner. A drunken encounter and Iris’ surprise visit the next morning lead to surprising revelations and confrontations.

Writer-director Lynn Shelton (Humpday) has a palpable love for good people making a mess of things, but nothing about the movie is showy. Her lovely tale of swirling emotions was shot in a mere 12 days, on a budget that must have been minuscule. It’s a mark of Shelton’s ability to create living characters from seemingly minor shared moments – the ones that wind up meaning everything.

There is also a looseness to the dialogue that suits the mood of the story, and it’s evidence that the immediacy in the halting rhythms of extemporaneous speech can often trump the art of words that are perfectly chosen. In some mumblecore, the semi-improvised dialogue is engulfed by hipster irony, but the acting here is so skilled, and the emotional terrain so rocky, that Shelton breaks past the genre’s narrow social parameters to a moving story of depression and devotion.

A trident of terrifically earthy performances grounds the sharp, twist-laden romantic comedy. Duplass’ feisty energy is matched by DeWitt’s constant smarminess, alternatively guarded and abrasive, while Blunt’s shy fragility balances the forceful personalities surrounding her. Each is an actor of distinctive delicacy, and each does some of their subtlest, most sweetly calibrated work ever, playing off one another with the kind of trust that is itself a demonstration of love. There’s no question that Shelton and her cast share a remarkable collaborative rapport (during the credits, they are listed as “Creative Consultants”).

Relationships are killers, and the film’s plot pivots on secrets and lies before they fest. Yet this extremely well-acted dramatic farce of grief and betrayal actually has a resonance beyond its target demographic. Life is a tattered, organic quilt that we sew and wear as one.

Barring some late-inning coyness and a glib copout ending that prefers tidiness above something more transgressive, this indie American talkfest, with its low-key, loose-limbed improvisatory feeling and teasing incompleteness, is a captivating examination of criss-crossing relationships permeated by incisive performances, and some of the truest dinged-heart couples’ circling of the year.

3/4

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