With the right approach, the right combination of actors, and and a great eye for character, a talented director can make almost any concept work, no matter how silly, far-fetched, melodramatic, or banal. The Duplass Brothers and Lynne Shelton (along with one of those Duplass Brothers, Mark) have been demonstrating this for years now. They go through the Hollywood book of high concepts, choose the most challenging ones, and dare each other to turn them into heartfelt and winning films, and their track record is remarkable. I’ve yet to see one of their collective films that hasn’t completely won me over.
In Your Sister’s Sister, Lynn Shelton pairs the most under-appreciated actor in Hollywood, Mark Duplass, along with two more familiar faces: Emily Blunt and the enchanting Rosemarie DeWitt. The premise sounds as unworkably banal as any: Jack (Duplass) is still grieving over the death of his brother and harboring something of a crush on his dead brother’s ex-girlfriend, Iris (Emily Blunt). Iris and Jack, nevertheless, are best friends, bonded together by the death of Jack’s brother.
After Jack makes a particularly embarrassing scene at a party thrown together to celebrate the life of his brother, Iris recommends to him that he take a ferry and visit her family’s cabin for a few days to collect his thoughts. He agrees, but finds when he arrives that he’s not alone: Iris’ lesbian sister, Hannah (Dewitt), has also sought solace in the cabin soon after breaking up with her long-time partner. Hannah and Jack drink too much and ultimately end up sleeping together on something of a dare. The catch? Iris arrives unexpectedly the next morning, and we soon find out that she also has feelings for Jack, setting the stage for a series of revelations that will alter the dynamic between Jack and Iris, and Iris and her sister, Hannah.
It all plays out organically and even a little predictably (save for one unexpected revelation), but in a character piece like this, where the storyline takes us is almost beside the point. The point is to spend an hour and a half with richly drawn and complicated characters working through their own emotional issues. The point is to become so invested in these characters that the outcome matters, that we feel enough for them that we root for particular outcomes, and that when those outcomes arrive, we feel the same sense of happiness and joy that those characters do. In that respect, Shelton’s film is a sweet and satisfying success.
Your Sister’s Sister is a small, low-key reminder of why so many of us love the movies: Aside from the spectacle, and aside from the countless origins stories we apparently can’t get enough of, and aside from the millions of iterations on the same stories we’ve been watching since Bambi, it’s the characters that populate those stories, and our ability to see ourselves within them, that ultimately matter the most. Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass, and Rosemarie Dewitt have brought these wonderful characters to life, and make Your Sister’s Sister soar with humor, sweetness, and poignancy.