Film Review: Sisters

by Carrie Kahn on December 18, 2015

You’ll have a good time partying with these Sisters

Sisters Kate (Tina Fey, l.) and Maura (Amy Poehler) throw an epic party at their childhood home.

Believe it or not, there actually are other films being released today aside from that minor little sci-fi picture that, for some reason, seems to have attracted a fair bit of media attention (kidding, people, kidding!). One of those movies daring to go up against The Most Anticipated Opening Ever is Sisters, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey’s bright, serviceable new comedy.

Poehler and Fey actually have stated in interviews that they weren’t put off by releasing their film today; in fact, they’ve claimed that they are glad to present an option to moviegoers who may be looking for an alternative to the Sequel-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Indeed, Sisters is a viable choice for those looking for a holiday movie escape; while it by no means is the best comedy released this year, it is smart and funny and sweet in all the ways you would expect, and offers enough laugh-out-loud moments to warrant a recommendation.

Directed by Jason Moore, whose credits include a host of TV shows and, most notably, the well-received comedy Pitch Perfect, Sisters reunites former Saturday Night Live Weekend Update anchors Fey and Poehler, cast here as, you guessed it, sisters. Fey’s Kate is supposed to be a few years older than Poehler’s Maura, and, in a rather typical paint-by-numbers plot, one of the sisters (Maura) is the straight-laced, responsible, do-gooder (she’s a nurse!), while the other (Kate) is the irresponsible, party-girl, can’t-hold-a-job (she’s a hairdresser) screw-up (but redeemable, naturally). The sisters learn that their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest, both appearing to enjoy themselves immensely) are going to sell their childhood home in Orlando, and so, in the grand tradition of teenage party movies like Risky Business, the gals decide to throw one final big blow-out bash at the old homestead.

Pazuzu (John Cena) likes a good party.

What makes the set up inherently funny, though, is that Kate and Maura are not teenagers; they are 40-something adults, and it’s that contrast – between youthful longing and nostalgia and current grown up realities – that provide some of the film’s biggest laughs, as well as genuinely poignant moments. The theme of lost youth and growing old is actually weaved very well with some of the more raunchy jokes, which proves to be remarkably effective.

The recipe for comic mayhem is further established when, on the night of the party, Kate and Maura decide to trade their traditional roles, so that Maura, fresh from a divorce, can let her freak flag fly, while Kate promises to take on the sober “party mom” role usually assumed by Maura. Of course, as you might imagine with such a plan, things can and do go awry, with (lucky for us) often side-splittingly funny results (let’s just say laundry detergent, shoddy ceiling construction, an old ballerina music box, and some poorly hidden cocaine all contribute to the madness).

Former high school enemies Kate (Tina Fey) and Brinda (Maya Rudolph) unexpectedly run into each other.

Former high school enemies Kate (Tina Fey, l.) and Brinda (Maya Rudolph) unexpectedly run into each other while grocery shopping.

Also adding to the fun are the supporting players, comprising a virtual who’s who of Saturday Night Live past and present (Paula Pell, a longtime SNL writer, wrote the screenplay, so she knows how to write for these folks). To list them all here would spoil the surprise, but worthy of mention in roles slightly larger than the rest are Bobby Moynihan as the annoying kid from high school who’s still annoying as an adult, and Maya Rudolph, as Kate’s teenage rival, whose present-day interest in Game of Thrones generates what’s easily the best one-liner of the movie.

Former wrestler John Cena, who’s making quite the name for himself this year with comedic cameos, shines again here as a hilariously deadpan drug dealer whose stoic manner belies a party-loving warmth. And Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project) has a nice turn as a possible love interest for Maura, gamely playing the relative straight man to Poehler and Fey’s outlandish bits.

As for Poehler and Fey themselves, they bring their A-game here, and though they look nothing alike, with their natural rapport and well honed comedic chemistry, believing they could be sisters isn’t too much of a stretch. Under Moore’s direction, neither dominates, and they both get center stage moments to shine; they bring wit and charm to Pall’s funny, but often predictable, script. Sure, there are the requisite heartfelt moments and tidy resolutions, but with so many laugh inducing moments, you’ll no doubt forgive the occasional trite plot point. So when the line’s too long for that other movie, check this one out – the Force may not be with you, but the laughs will be.


Sisters opens today at Bay Area theaters.

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll. Proud new member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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