Blu-ray Review: ‘Your Sister’s Sister’ Sets High Bar for Indie Filmmaking
CHICAGO – Give Lynn Shelton a few days, a dozen crew members, a picturesque cabin and three terrific actors, and just look at what she’s capable of making. “Your Sister’s Sister” is clearly the work of a filmmaker in full command of her craft. With limited resources and very little time, writer/director Shelton somehow managed to capture a fully realized human drama brimming with richly etched characters and marvelously insightful comedy.
The more one knows about the process of filmmaking, particularly on a shoestring budget, the more one is bound to be impressed by Shelton’s achievement. Though several months of planning preceded the film’s tight production schedule, one of the three stars dropped out before shooting was set to begin. Since roughly ninety-five percent of the film is inhabited solely by these three main characters, the results of this last-minute change could’ve been catastrophic.
Blu-ray Rating: 4.5/5.0
Enter Rosemarie DeWitt, an actress who has proven in picture after picture to be one of the most engaging and naturalistic performers in modern cinema. She had a total of three days to prepare for her role in Shelton’s picture. Not only was her role tonally complex, but it required her to delve far outside her comfort zone and into the realm of improvisation (Shelton wrongly yet understandably assumed that DeWitt’s breakout film, “Rachel Getting Married,” was unscripted). Yet despite all of the obstacles in her path, DeWitt’s performance is an absolute triumph as it builds and builds into a hurricane of conflicted emotions. As Hannah, a depressed woman whose long-term romance has met its untimely demise, DeWitt conveys the despair of a middle-aged bachelorette in need of companionship. She finds it one ordinary evening when her cabin is infiltrated by Jack (Mark Duplass), the best friend of her sister, Iris (Emily Blunt). Iris ordered Jack to visit her family’s cabin in order to clear his head and regain his sanity in the aftermath of his brother’s death. As Hannah and Jack connect during a particularly inebriated evening, Shelton covers the scene with a simple two camera set-up without the unnecessary handheld flourishes and quick zooms that have marred some of Duplass’ recent directorial work. Her attention to detail is almost Bergmanesque with a touch of Woody Allen, yet without the sterility that Allen brought to some of his Bergman-influenced work. Like Allen, Shelton loves lingering in the delicious, often painful ironies that reverberate through dialogue-driven scenes where each word has multiple subtexts.
Your Sister’s Sister was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 6th, 2012.
Photo credit: IFC Films
Only during Jack and Hannah’s eventful conversation does she casually identify herself as a lesbian, though that doesn’t stop her from guiding the night toward its potential conclusion. What follows is an unconventional “love triangle” of sorts that sidesteps melodramatic clichés while breaking sexual taboos without alienating prudish viewers. After pushing bromance boundaries in her wonderful 2009 film, “Humpday,” Shelton again tackles uncomfortable subject matter with such grace and wit that she instantly normalizes it. Blunt and DeWitt nail the chemistry of two siblings who know each other all too well, while the ever-prolific (and always welcome) Duplass delivers some of the best work of his career as a distraught man fumbling in his efforts to embrace life. Watching these three actors spark off one another is a joy to behold. Here’s hoping Shelton finds another free weekend to shoot the sequel.
“Your Sister’s Sister” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English and Spanish subtitles and includes two hilarious audio commentary tracks. Duplass joins Shelton for an intimate discussion on their process of making microbudget, semi-improvised films. Comedian Mike Birbiglia was originally encouraged by producers to hire Shelton to direct his own film, “Sleepwalk With Me.” Though Birbiglia ended up directing it himself, he offered to be in Shelton’s next film, and was ultimately cast as the friend of Jack’s brother. Duplass observes that it was Birbiglia’s pitch-perfect cameo that set the tone for the entire film. On the second, chuckle-filled commentary track, Shelton reminisces with cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke, gaffer Jeremy Mackie, production designer John Lavin and composer Vinny Smith. Both tracks draw half-joking comparisons between the Jack character and Jack Tripper on “Three’s Company,” particularly during the film’s most unapologetically sitcom-like pratfalls. Yet even at its goofiest, “Your Sister’s Sister” is firmly rooted in the warmhearted humanity of its central trio. Not every plot point may be neatly tied at the film’s final fade out, but the internal arc of each character has reached an utterly sublime conclusion.