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Friday, March 18, 2016

SISTERS, Sisters

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Sisters' on Blogcritics.

As of today, the film Sisters is available to own. Released in theaters late last year, the movie tells the story of two messed-up female siblings who come together one last time in their childhood home to throw a huge party and recapture what they’ve lost. With an impressive comedic cast, it’s a new twist on an old genre, the party film, with the young-at-heart instead of the young (though they certainly aren’t old, either).

The stars of Sisters are the great Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation). Tina is Kate, the fun-loving sister that can’t hold a job or a place to live, and has alienated her daughter, Haley (Madison Davenport, Shameless). Amy is Maura, the uptight one who can’t keep a husband. While Maura is admittedly more responsible, her issue of not knowing how to loosen up is a problem, too, and so the two must help one another, each rubbing off on the other.

That sounds like a very familiar formula, and it is. Even mixing it with a party film (most of the running time takes place at a celebration on a single night) isn’t novel. Nor is the basic love interest for Maura, James (Ike Barinholtz, The Mindy Project), whose only defining characteristic is that he’s nice to Maura because he likes her, and knows how to fix things for her.

What makes Sisters unique, though, is the exact manner in which it tackles this premise. By putting all the characters around forty-ish, it adds a new element. And while Maura and Kate may be the only party-goers with full personalities, seeing their high school chums fall back into old patterns and stereotypes and reopen old wounds is satisfying, too, like a school reunion, but in a totally wild setting. It took awhile for me to start appreciating exactly what makes Sisters special, but by the end of the two hours (yep, it’s a full two hours, not ninety minutes like most comedies), I think I finally understood it.

Helping the film’s appeal along is a stellar supporting cast, which includes many Saturday Night Live alum and cast members, joining fellow players Tina, Amy, and the movie’s scribe Paula Pell, who created some of SNL‘s most memorable late ’90s characters. Those actors are Bobby Moynihan, Kate McKinnon, John Lutz, Chris Parnell, Rachel Dratch, and the incomparable Maya Rudolph. Toss in Samantha Bee (The Daily Show), Jon Glaser (Delocated), Renee Elise Goldsberry (The Good Wife), Matt Oberg (The Onion News Network), Greta Lee (New Girl), John Leguizamo (Moulin Rogue), WWE wrestler John Cena, and Life in Pieces couple Dianne Wiest and James Brolin, and you would be hard-pressed to find a better ensemble.

I guess Sisters isn’t for everyone, and if you don’t get that bizarre take on a relatable familial chemistry that it’s going for, you may be left confused. But once you embrace the madness and just let yourself enjoy the performances, it becomes a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

As far as extras go, there are tons. Besides an unrated version of the movie itself and the expected deleted and extended scenes, there are outtakes, unused improv moments, and behind-the-scenes material to explain what the filmmakers are doing. There’s also an interview with writer Pell, commentary with her, the director, and the two leads, and and an extra on special effects. It’s quite a lot for a release such as this, and thankfully much of it is showing us more of the funny performers in their element.

As always, I recommend blu-ray over DVD. Visually, there are some bright Florida colors and the dark light show at the party that beg for good contrast. In the second half of the film, there’s a lot going on with the audio, from dialogue to music to ambiance, all mixed together. In a testament to the overall quality, I detected no flaws in any of it during my HD viewing, and I never had trouble understanding what the characters are saying. I can’t help but think a standard definition experience would be harder to stomach, needing the crispness to balance everything out appropriately.

Sisters is available now on blu-ray, DVD, and digital download.

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