Amy Poehler and Tina Fey’s comedic chemistry makes it nearly impossible not to derive at least some pleasure from anything in which they participate. With Sisters, the explosively hilarious duo is mildly corralled by a time-tested narrative that somehow feels fresh alongside its improvisational script (Paula Pell) and playful evasion of seriousness. At times little more than an excuse for Poehler and Fey to release their inescapable charm, and at others a wildly uncompromising series of escalating set pieces, Sisters is the best buddy comedy of the year.
The Ellis sisters were high school legends. Known for their infamous “Ellis Island” parties and penchant for radness, Maura (Poehler) and Kate (Fey) have done very little growing up since their glory days. Although Maura turned her “Party Mom” reputation into a successful career as a nurse, Kate is struggling to survive as a hotheaded hair/nail stylist with a teenage daughter. The childish sisters are mortified when they learn that momma and poppa Ellis (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) have sold their childhood home and have boxed up decades worth of memories. Deciding to have one last party in their parents’ empty house, Maura and Kate set out to prove to themselves that fun still exists after 40, and that they (and all of their equally-(im)mature friends) still have what it takes to get wasted.
No amount of plot description or situation explaining will ever make Sisters sound as good as it is. Like finishing a story with “you just had to be there,” Jason Moore’s film carries no lasting joke or snappy catchphrase — it is something that needs to be seen and experienced. Poehler and Fey’s improv backgrounds lean toward the zanier sides of hilarity, and their spot-on delivery cannot be duplicated. Feeding off of each other’s particular strengths, the women discharge waves of consciousness that build from the crashing of successive punchlines. A scene in which the two are picking out dresses for the big party quickly becomes a riotous affair in which the two cannot seem to stop making jokes. While Pell’s script steers clear of most genuine moments, this scene with its nonsensical back-and-forth carries with it the pair’s inescapable bond.
Backed up by a fantastic cast of Saturday Night Live regulars (including the criminally-underused Rachel Dratch) and celebrity cameos (a monstrous John Cena), Fey and Poehler shine in their clandestine role as sisters. While Poehler seems able to act circles around her comedy counterpart, she rarely does, and instead elevates Fey’s performance to be in line with her own. By way of the star’s incredible presence and impressive talent, Maya Rudolph’s small side role as a villainous high school rival is turned into anything but.
Sisters is a house party film told by and from the perspective of women, and that is precisely why it succeeds. Jokes about tampons or nail salons are never treated as tokens of gender or as humor aimed towards specific categories of people. They are treated every bit as trivially as any other day-to-day activity and lampooned just as easily. Almost totally reliant on the star-power of its co-leads, the film still offers a relatively energetic take on an annually-rehashed idea.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.