Lynn Shelton’s follow-up to her mumblecore hit Humpday retains both frequent collaborator Mark Duplass, and a focus on the types of dynamic you can find between a small group of people. In Your Sister’s Sister we meet Iris (Emily Blunt), Jack (Duplass), and Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt). At the heart of Humpday’s character exploration was a fairly high concept premise: two straight male friends decide to make a porn film together for an art project, testing their boundaries in the process. Your Sister’s Sister can’t be summed up quite as neatly, but by not relying on any farcical narrative developments alone, Shelton avoids any sitcom-like tendencies, instead opting to bolster the film with grounded, engaging characters who you can enjoy spending time with.
Duplass’ Jack is having trouble recovering from his brother’s death a year after the event. Iris, his best friend and a former girlfriend of his brother, offers him the opportunity to spend some time alone at her family’s secluded cabin, where he can try and clear his head. Upon arriving, he discovers Iris’ sister Hannah is actually there to clear her own head following her recent separation from a long-time partner. Despite having never met, the pair spend a night commiserating each other over heavy alcohol consumption that eventually leads to a brief bout of regrettable lovemaking. The next morning the two find themselves in a predicament when Iris turns up unannounced for a brief stay. They attempt to conceal their tryst to prevent any feelings getting hurt and stop relationships from potentially souring, but as the desires and longings to be found in each character are slowly revealed, this proves to be troublesome.
Your Sister’s Sister utilises a part-scripted part-improvised approach, resulting in naturalistic dialogue that balances genuine hilarity with sincere emotion, all skilfully communicated by a trio of highly effective actors. Duplass successfully manages to portray a man masking his insecurities with outer frivolity, and a luminous Blunt is wonderful as the charming, spirited Iris. Their interactions in their scenes alone together have an especially playful and tender brand of loveliness that doesn’t feel manufactured. DeWitt has perhaps the most complex role: full of love, but very different from her sister, she deftly alternates between amusing abrasiveness, graceful introspection and reckless immaturity.
The film loses its footing in the final act, in which certain revelations provoke disbanding and an eventual reconciliation that doesn’t necessarily feel as authentic as what we’ve seen thus far. Additionally, Shelton seems a bit lost as to what to do with Jack in this final stretch, having him wander off out of the main setting to mope around in a montage scored by bland acoustic guitar. There is, however, still some charm to be found in the conclusion – given its absorbing, well-embodied and honest feeling characters, it’s not hard to forgive its minor failings. Your Sister’s Sister is a frequently hilarious, warm comedy with some sober, dramatic exploration of an almost equal potency.
Your Sister’s Sister was the opening gala film of Glasgow Film Festival 2012, with director Lynn Shelton in attendance.