Our little darling mumblecore has grown up. Look at those static camera takes! Directed by mumblecore filmmaker Lynn Shelton and staring mumblecore director and performer Mark Duplass, Your Sister’s Sister shows the genuine maturity of the filmmakers and style in a earnest look at a quasi-love triangle.
Still emotionally distraught after his brother’s death, Jack (Mark Duplass) is persuaded to head to a lone cabin in the woods by a lake and contemplate by his best friend Iris (Emily Blunt), Jack’s dead brother, Tom’s ex-girlfiend. Upon arrival, he finds that the cabin is occupied by Iris’s recently single lesbian sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt). The two discuss their current emotional states over several shots of tequila, and effectively emptying the bottle. They drop their inhibitions and decide to sleep together. To make matters more awkward, Iris decides to surprise Jack by visiting the cabin early in the morning.
Your Sister’s Sister is an independent film with a clear rhythm and pace that produces a film that is not too long, not too short; just right. Unnecessary scenes are non-existent, and dialogue and confrontations explode with some of the same tension found in situational material such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? There is a real earnest story that confronts the an issue that most would never face, issues regarding love and relationships between friends and family.
Your Sister’s Sister has a rather decent premise about jealousy and forbidden love. The concept of a man having intercourse with a lesbian in cinema dates back to Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy, a pivotal film for GLBT culture. Yet, how can Iris, who had dated Tom before he died, be in love with Jack, especially within the course of a year since Tom’s death? It is really the only aspect of the film that did not seem to fit. Then again, love cannot always be so easily explained.
One scene has the three eating dinner with Hannah, a vegan (ethic reasons she briefly mentions), scarfing down mashed potatoes made by Iris and Jack. They inform her that they added a teaspoon of butter for flavor and as as a joke. The scene connects to the inciting incident where Jack and Hannah have sex. Although drunk, they both knew that sleeping with each other would hurt Iris, just as adding butter, to what was supposed to be vegan mashed potatoes, is against Hannah’s dietary choices.
Although described as a movement, Mumblecore is a specific American stylization based on filmmakers being resourceful with a minute amount of resources while piggybacking off the growing DIY trend. Similar to other historically important movements or styles in filmmaking, consumer-level video equipment prices diminished, allowing cash-strapped filmmakers to utilize any and all resources to tell their stories. Shots were handheld and jerky, dialogue was spotty, shots were improvised, and the film were shot in a short amount of time. Eventually, dozens of films were released with this resourceful aesthetic capturing hearts of the American independent-loving audience.
There is a clear maturity in Lynn Shelton compared to her earlier film, Humpday, also staring Duplass. The mumblecore style is certainly waning and these directors are becoming more mature along with the growth of resources to produce their films. The style is based upon resourceful filmmaking, and compared the paltry budgets of the early films many of the filmmakers who have arisen from that block continue to make their films in tight conditions; hence, Your Sister’s Sister has a $125,000 budget and primary location of a cabin in the woods.
Since the bulk of the film exists in and around a cabin, there is an isolation that forces the talents to nail their performances to drive this character study. Indeed, Blunt, Duplass, and DeWitt have a communal chemistry that makes such an unbelievable narrative beyond passable.
Duplass, (recently of Safety Not Guaranteed) returns to his typecast role as a unproductive late-twenty/thirtysomething looking for a some clarity and still mourn his brother’s death. Blunt hides her character’s love for Jack so well and plays up her genuine affection as best friend with plausibility. When her character, Iris, arrives at the cabin, there is a very honest and candid look of surprise on her face when she sees Hannah. Hannah is a character who has intentions and desires that were not satisfied by her previous partner, and DeWitt exhibits this change in heart, even if it shakes the very foundations of a friendship.
Although Your Sister’s Sister ends abruptly, but it is certainly is not a cop-out. The conflict at hand at the end of the film continues to question the bond between sisters and between friends, and the real conclusion is how this love/friend/sibling triangle returns to its original shape and structure. With the current culture war and the reactive congressional interest in suppressing family planning and women’s health funding, there certainly are a fair share of films about non-traditional relationships and families (consider Friends with Kids and The Kids are Alright).
Your Sister’s Sister sticks out because it is an independent film that does not rely on artificiality or fall into the same holes that other independent films might. Instead, the film has a concise premise that can continuously evolve throughout the film’s ninety-minute run time. There is a genuine care and affection between all the characters well-being which effectively builds interest and attraction to the fairly humorous conflict that has arise.