Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Your Sister’s Sister (2012) – Review

Review: Your Sister’s Sister is a good drama, low on production value but high on great performances.  The film is about Jack, his best friend Iris and her sister Hannah. Jack, struggling with the death of his brother, is sent up to Iris’s father’s cabin for some alone time to think and deal by Iris. However, when he gets there, he finds Hannah taking refuge after breaking off a seven year relationship. They get to drinking and talking, and more drinking and end up sleeping together. Then, Iris shows up the next morning to surprise Jack, things are only made more complicated by Iris having secret feelings for Jack and he for her. Writer-director Lynn Shelton seems to be firstly interested in garnering not only great performances but real performances. The film stylistically (and maybe due to its lack of budget – reportedly made for $80 thousand) is completely steeped in realism, from natural lighting to sound design that sounds as if it was picked up from the microphone built into the camera (it is bad enough to remind me of doing sound design in film school with no equipment or money). Shelton, however, avoids the clichéd faux-documentary style with quick random zooms, often prevalent in mumblecore films, much to the film’s benefit. The poor sound design does detract from the film, as levels are off and sound effects and ambient noise are too strong at times (though, it is not clear if this is by design or merely a budgetary consequence). The style however is all just to create a naturalistic environment for the characters to inhabit and to convey the realism of the world to the audience, all to set up the performances, which make the film. Shelton’s directing and the film’s improvised dialog allow for the performances to grow and play organically and feel very fresh, as if the audience happened to be eavesdropping on the actors’ actual life. It is very compelling dramatically. The drama is also mostly void of many of the clichés that typically make up and bog down most romantic ‘love-triangle’ dramas, and this is because Shelton has designed the narrative to be more about the characters and their individual internal dramas than purely a romance ‘boy woos girl (or vice versa)’. The strong character moments allow the viewers to really get a sense of who these people are and this is the strongest aspect of the film (as well as the superb performances). Your Sister’s Sister stands out as a low-budget indie (mostly due to its awful sound design), but the wonderful dramatic performances make it something special, rising above is budgetary constraints.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Lynn Shelton has possibly made the best film in the mumblecore genre with Your Sister’s Sister. While it is blatantly low budget (as stated abundantly above), its performances and dramatic narrative are expertly designed by Shelton. Having the actors improvise most of their dialog gives the film such an organic feel and rawness. I look forward to her next project. The music Vince Smith composes for the film fits the tone well (and does its job), but does not stand out. The cinematography by Benjamin Kasulke and production design by John Lavin also works well with the tone and aesthetic style of realism that Shelton creates, but as a side effect is greatly overshadowed by the performances and somewhat seems very sparse. (Again, as stated above) the performances are brilliant. Mark Duplass (doing equally good work, if not better, to his career best to date in Safety Not Guaranteed) is great as Jack, playing all the complexity of confusing feelings and mourning. He has surely set himself up as a go-to indie dramedy actor going forward. Rosemarie DeWitt is also fantastic as Hannah. She can convey so much with so little – her eyes and small facial expressions are more telling than pages of dialog. However, Emily Blunt may steal the film as Iris. She brings a lot of energy to the trio, while playing all the dramatic and comedic moments perfectly. She has certainly emerged as one of the best young leading actors with wonderful performance after performance.

Summary & Score: The low budget aesthetics are certainly evident, but seemingly fade behind the great performances. 7/10

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