Among the many things that men hold an unfair monopoly on over women are comedies about adults who never progressed beyond childhood. Man-child comedies are basically a subgenre unto themselves, spanning from The Jerk to Dumb and Dumber to the bulk of the Judd Apatow-associated films of the past decade. But why can’t women also be overgrown children for our amusement? Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck this past summer at least scratched in the general vicinity of the itch, but didn’t quite get there, as her character was irresponsible in chiefly adult ways. Where the women-children at?
Sisters answers that call with great gusto. The film, starring real-life besties Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, introduces us to the Ellis sisters, Kate and Maura. Maura (Poehler) is a tightly-wound nurse with a deep-seated need to care for and please others. Kate is the opposite, a reckless washout who can hold neither a job nor a residence and whose put-upon daughter (Madison Davenport from From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series) is forced to occupy the mother role in their relationship. Kate and Maura might have wildly divergent temperaments and stations in life, but what they do share is an infantilized mindset. The sisters are only adults by the numbers, and when their long-suffering parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) opt to sell the girls’ childhood home in Orlando in favor of downscaled condo life, the sisters band together to put a stop to this nonsense. Losing their childhood home means closing the book on their childhood, and the Ellis sisters clearly aren’t ready for that book to shut.
Somehow the plan to save the house quickly mutates into a plan to have one last big blowout at the place, inviting all their old high-school friends over to recapture the good ol’ days, with the added bonus of making a mess that will put off the house’s upper-crust prospective buyers. The guest list includes a local handyman (Ike Barinholtz) who has captured Maura’s fancy, a brutally unfunny would-be cutup (SNL’s Bobby Moynihan) blissfully unaware of how painful his non-stop pop-culture references are, and a hulking mountain of a drug dealer (John Cena) who exhibits painstaking professionalism in his trade. Not on the guest list, however, is Brinda (Maya Rudolph), an ice-queen nemesis of the Ellises who becomes determined to either ruin or infiltrate the bash.
Sisters has a loose setup, but once the party commences, the movie gathers momentum that never flags. The great initial gag is that Kate and Maura’s old pals are now boring fortysomething suburbanite parents whose idea of partying consists of glasses of wine and mundane conversation, hardly the bacchanal the girls had in mind. But the sisters do manage to kickstart the youthful spirits lying dormant beneath the middle-class calcification of their classmates, procuring both the burn-it-down revelry and property damage they set out to achieve. The end result is a night that sparks both the teenage dreams and the belated adult impulses of the sisters as the home base of their adolescence is celebrated and destroyed in equal measure.
The film that Sisters perhaps most strongly recalls is Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, a similar tale of adult women who never really moved past their high-school selves and who find themselves in a situation where they are forced to confront former schoolmates who have. There are also fragments of House Party, Superbad and Risky Business (that last one, the movie outright cops to over its end credits) to be found. Yet Sisters is much better than merely an amalgamation of spare parts from other comedies. This is the funniest film of the year, and one of the most raucous and energetic comedies in several years. The film doesn’t have much in the way of structure. Once the party starts, it takes over the entire film like a wildfire. Party comedies can be tiresome and obnoxious, as was the case with Project X a few years back, but the pleasure of Sisters is how many different scenarios and jokes it manages to glean from a very familiar framework. It often comes off like the most sharply written lowbrow ‘80s comedy ever made, in the best way.
Poehler is right in her sweet spot here, playing a Type-A overachiever whose brain and mouth rarely seem in sync. This character is very much of a piece with Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope without being a complete facsimile, and Poehler gets huge laughs all throughout. Fey, however, is a revelation. Playing a blowsy, uninhibited party girl is a persona she hasn’t really tried on before and it fits her perfectly. It goes without saying that the two actresses have astonishing chemistry and are hilarious ping-ponging off of one another, but Fey as the naughty yin to Poehler’s uptight yang gives their partnership an entirely fresh slant. They are ably abetted by a network of scene stealers, especially Moynihan, who turns in a live-wire performance, and Cena, who, along with his contributions to Trainwreck, is quickly establishing himself as the unlikeliest comedic secret weapon.
So fantastic is Sisters that it even manages to spin a potentially deadly, drawn-out gag of someone getting an object painfully stuck where the sun don’t shine into solid laughs. While perhaps a bit overlong at just shy of two hours, as is the unfortunate trend with comedies this day and age, the film never feels like it overstays its welcome by that much. In fact, it’s almost a shame that the party has to end. I could have hung out a bit longer.
Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe at @BrandonTheWolfe.