Tina Fey and Amy Poehler pair up once more for the raucous quasi-Christmas comedy Sisters (2015). Penned by Saturday Night Live writer Paula Pell and helmed by Pitch Perfect (2012) director Jason Moore, the comedy sees Poehler and Fey star as Maura and Kate Ellis, two siblings approaching middle age. Maura is a divorcee, do-gooder nurse, perfectly introduced when she patronisingly tries to apply suncream to a man she believes to be homeless, only to realise he is in fact a resting construction worker.
Fey’s Kate, on the other hand, is a party animal and single-mother struggling with her failing beauty business and relationship with her despairing daughter, Hayley (Madison Davenport). Initially, it appears that the Ellis girls are the antithesis of each other. However, both are leading lives tinged with loneliness and regret. The chemistry of the duo is potent and with a sharp, quick-witted script it avoids the clichéd tropes of arrested development. The success of Sisters lies in the wide mainstream appeal of Fey and Poehler, with a conscious decision to reverse their respective roles from Baby Mama (2008) paying dividends.
Their lives in free-fall, Kate and Maura have to return home to clear out their bedrooms after they discover their parents (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin offer ample support) are selling their childhood home. Furious at the news, they revert to their childhood dynamics, oscillating between brattish sibling squabbles and tender sisterhood. Deciding that this is the perfect opportunity to throw one last epic “Ellis Island” party, they rally old school friends for one last night of debauched, drug-fuelled mayhem, raising a glass to yesteryear complete with dance routines. Part of the reason for the party is to allow Maura to let down her hair, dropping her party-mom persona and let rip, while Kate has to take on the role of the designated driver, making sure things don’t get too out of control, which of course they do.
Sisters need not be valued in terms of gender balancing but rather how successfully it works as a film by comedians and comic writers. Not only does it pack in the laughs but it also manages to find sweeter moments reflecting on the idea of accepting the loss of youth, but gender is not the reason this comedy works so well – it is the Fey and Poehler’s incredibly ability as performers. There are notable supporting performances from John Leguizamo as a seedy alcoholic and Ike Barinholtz as the guy-next-door who catches the eye of Maura. The most surprising performance comes from former wrestler John Cena as drug dealer Pazuzu (despite the name there is no obvious reference to The Exorcist), who has incredible comic timing. Both tender and hilarious, Sisters is a raucous romp and complete catnip for fans of Fey and Poehler.
Joe Walsh | @JosephDAWalsh