You Only Hurt The Ones You Love
Film #5: Your Sister’s Sister (2011)
Director: Lynn Shelton
Jack (Mark Duplass) remains trapped grief and depression a year after his brother’s death. Hannah (Rosemarie Dewitt) has just left a seven year relationship with another woman and is processing her own loss and loneliness. Iris (Emily Blunt) adores her older sister, Hannah, and is falling in love with her best friend, Jack, so the secret of a one-night stand between Hannah and Jack is a ticking time bomb in this trio. Hannah has another secret, too, involving the condom that she provided Jack.
Your Sister’s Sister is a comedy from writer/director Lynn Shelton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), but it’s not the sex farce that you might imagine from the premise. I have a friend who taught me an epigrammatic bit of wisdom: hurting people hurt people. That’s what is really happening in Your Sister’s Sister: Jack and Hannah are both in such pain that they can’t seem to help hurting each other and, perhaps worse, hurting Iris – trusting and loyal to both of them. No one is malicious: Jack and and Hannah are just struggling to see past their own neediness, and need to experience some healing before they’re able to open up and love well again.
And if that sounds not at all like a comedy…well, it is. Shelton has crafted a script that is insightful and empathetic, but it’s also very witty.
Your Sister’s Sister is a small movie in nearly every way. There are only three characters (except for a brief prologue featuring Mike Berbiglia), most of the action is confined to one setting – a cabin – and that action is almost entirely talking. Almost, of course, except for the drunken sexual encounter that throws off the relational balance between the characters. But all of that talking works so well, discloses so much about these characters (Jack’s insecurity, Hannah’s brittleness, Iris’s playfulness) that I could happily have listened to them talk even longer. Especially striking are a couple of sweet and funny scenes in which Iris crawls into Hannah’s bed late at night to talk, reminders that the big sister/ little sister dynamic can last long into adulthood.
I have a mixed opinion of Mark Duplass, but he’s good as a character who is, as Iris says, “a mess.” He is doughy, unshaven, bleary eyed. Both actresses are wonderful. Dewitt radiates intelligence and a prickly wit (reminding me of Catherine Keener), and Blunt’s Iris is warm and unguarded. The ending of Your Sister’s Sister strains credulity, but it’s the one false note in this otherwise pitch-perfect, unassuming little film.
Bonus Pick: Deep Impact (1998)
Director: Mimi Leder
In one of those weird screen synchronies that happen from time to time, 1998 saw the release of two big budget movies about meteors hurtling toward the earth. Michael Bay directed Armageddon, a movie so packed with corn and cheese that you could serve it over tortilla chips. As for Deep Impact, it’s not a great film but if you like disaster films (as I do), it’s a good one – and at risk of engendering stereotypes, I think director Mimi Leder gave Deep Impact a female perspective almost unprecedented in the genre. It’s quieter, more sober, and centered around a woman (Téa Leoni) who exhibits heroism in ways I’m not sure Michael Bay could comprehend.