- Rated R
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All photos © IFC Films
Reviewed by Ezra Stead
he term “mumblecore” is one of those annoying descriptors created by critics (much like “grunge” in the music world) in order to easily classify a type of artwork that, while not entirely new, stands out in some way from what is considered mainstream. The so-called mumblecore movie is often largely improvised, naturalistic and minimal on plot contrivance, though filmmakers from John Cassavetes on down to Richard Linklater, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh have been approaching their work in this way for decades without being slapped with a silly label. Recent films that have been categorized in this way include Lena Dunham's “Tiny Furniture,” Aaron Katz's “Cold Weather,” and the films of writer/director Lynn Shelton, including her latest, “Your Sister's Sister.”
The rather odd title roughly refers to the film's three main characters: Jack (Mark Duplass) is the “Your” and Iris (Emily Blunt) is his best friend, who’s been like a sister to him ever since she used to date his now deceased brother, Tom. The other sister is Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), Iris's half-sister, who Jack meets unexpectedly when Iris sends him to her family cabin to get his head straight after an unpleasant scene he creates at a party commemorating the first anniversary of Tom's death. A major theme of the film is the way in which people become like family when they care enough to be hurt by one another, and the limitations we impose upon these relationships because of that almost familial connection.
True to the mumblecore ethos, the film is not heavy on plot, preferring instead to explore these three characters and the relationship they build together. Hannah has recently left her girlfriend of seven years and, on a drunken impulse, sleeps with Jack the first night they meet. The following morning, Iris unexpectedly arrives, and both Hannah and Jack scramble to keep it a secret from her. It's no spoiler to say that they fail, and the repercussions of this revelation quickly lead to more surprising ones. Perhaps the high point of the film comes around this time, a very funny scene involving an improperly used condom. The ambiguous ending is also very well done, leaving the viewer wondering exactly how these rather aimless folks are going to navigate their unusual three-person family.
Except for some distracting handheld camerawork and Blunt's equally distracting English accent (barely explained by the fact that she and Hannah are half-sisters), the most problematic things about the film are inextricably tied to its best points. Hannah is not the easiest character to like, but this is intentional, and the worst thing she does directly leads to the film's best scene. On the other hand, the fallout of this scene leads to some of the film's biggest problems, including a too-easy montage sequence, followed by a rather requisite speech from Jack after he finds some sense of purpose in life. Ultimately, “Your Sister's Sister” is a film about finding direction that is at its best when it feels the least directed.