Given what we’ve seen Tina Fey and Amy Poehler accomplish over the past few years; given even a mediocre script, the expectation would be a funny film when the two are the leads in a project. Sisters, a film from the very talented director of Pitch Perfect (I’d have given it a better review than TailSlate’s other critic did) does a bit better than just funny. Probably because screenwriter Paula Pell knows how to use both words and visuals to generate laughter.
“Kate Ellis” (Fey) is the older sister. She’s a single parent with one daughter, “Haley” (Madison Davenport). “Maura Ellis” (Poehler) is the younger sister. In atypical fashion, Kate is the discombobulated one, couch-surfing and jobless at the outset. Haley went away without giving specifics about her summer plans and Kate has been worried about and looking for her. Maura is the overly organized, anal younger sister who works as a nurse and tries to help anyone and everyone she encounters.
The sisters have to go to the home where they were raised because their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Weist) have unexpectedly decided to sell it. The two never bothered to clean out their rooms and must do so before the new owners can take possession. They have a lot of memories and a whole lot of stuff in that room that has to be out by Monday.
Since Maura never got to have “her night” in their home, Kate agrees to be the ‘party-mom’ for a night and they plan a major rager of a party. As they plan the soiree and make the guest list we’re introduced to a number of characters from their teen years who are still in the area. Given the SNL connection, it is no surprise that a number of current and former members of SNL are cast in the film. Maya Rudolph, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Monynihan and Rachel Dratch are all there. Rudolph is particularly funny as a frenemy of Kate’s from high school. John Cena is best known for being a 15 time WWE World Champion but he continues to demonstrate serious supporting actor chops, this time as a tattooed, overly muscle-bound drug dealer who comes complete with “safe word.” He steals every second he is on screen.
With the house’s escrow scheduled to close and the new owners wanting to take possession on Monday, what happens at the party is pretty predictable. But the laughs are in how what comes next happens more than in knowing it is coming. The role reversal for Kate and Maura is highly amusing and you can see a confrontation coming. While this isn’t anything ground-breaking, it has lots and lots of laughs, and a fairly good message about family and relationships. Fey and Poehler have always played very well off of each other and while this isn’t their best pairing ever, it’s a good one.
I’m told that when Paula Pell was writing the script she saw Poehler as the rebel sister and Fey as the straight-laced one, but Fey insisted they switch roles, “because Poehler is better at playing crazy.” I’m not sure I agree, but however it came to be, it worked.