The one questions that reverberates through SISTERS is why didn’t the stars, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, write the script? They are producers, after all, and would seem, therefore, to have the clout to get any script that they wanted made, and yet, they have opted to squander their considerable talents on an egregiously plug-and-play story as rife with clichés as it is with embarrassingly unfunny moments. Few of them, I hasten to point out, from Ms Poehler or Ms Fey. Was it a lost bar bet? Did they want to test their comedic perfection in a script that offers them little in the way of support? So many questions, and so much time to ponder them as the flick rolls on without offering much in the way of distraction. For the record, these are two of the funniest people on the planet, and so when, in what I can only think is a moment of inspired improve, the one invites the other to breast feed a squirrel, it inspires a hearty guffaw. And that’s a blessing because this stale tale only gets worse as it meanders on.
They are Moira and Kate Ellis, two sisters who couldn’t, of course, be more different. Moira (Poehler) is a nurse obsessed with helping people and finding unsuspected talents in homeless pets. Kate is a hot mess of an unemployable beautician, currently living on her exterminator’s sofa and trying to reconnect with her peripatetic teenage daughter (Madison Davenport). When their parents (Diane Wiest and James Brolin) decide to sell the family home, they call the girls back to Orlando in order to have them claim what they want from their stuff still in situ in their childhood bedroom. Horrified that their nest is going on the market, they spend a last night in their old room, reading their diaries by the soft glow of lava lamps and wistful regrets.
Naturally, with the building inspector coming on Monday to investigate the house’s condition for the new owners, the girls decide to throw one last party for their high-school friends, a party where Moira can finally do the nasty in her childhood bed, and Kate can play party mother, staying sober and keeping things from getting out of hand. Naturally, things do get out of hand, and with a tedious familiarity that starts with the sister’s resuming their running feud with an old rival (Maya Rudolph), and escalates through former party animals re-finding their inner beast courtesy of alcohol, drugs, and a pep talk by Moira that reminds them all that death is around the corner.
It helps that the party crowd is peopled by some talented folks from Saturday Night Live, past and present, as well as John Cena as a terrifyingly tattooed drug dealer for whom Kate gets the hots, and John Leguizamo as an oddly buoyant derelict with a upbeat attitude. There is also Ike Barinholtz as the quick-witted guy down the street who catches Moira’s fancy, and their initial, wonderfully inappropriate, flirtation is easily one of the film’s best moments. They even manage to make the Seinfeld-ian interlude with a Swiss music box much funnier than it has any right to be. Balanced as those things are with tired tropes such as the sisters catching their parents in a semi-compromising position, and the class nerd mistaking a controlled substance for a sugar substitute (oh Bobby Moynihan, you deserved better) at the party makes for an uneven, even frustrating, cinematic experience. Poehler and Fey are gold, but the slog through the dreck is all but unendurable.
Wait for the cable debut for this one, and in the meantime imagine how great a film it would have been if Fey and Poehler had gifted us with one that mercilessly needled the trite cheesiness at work here.