One would think that teaming Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on the big screen would have incredible results. Both are some of the funniest, wittiest, and charming comedians of our time, each scoring big on their respective breakout TV hits, with Fey lighting up 30 Rock and Poehler on Parks & Recreation. Though, their unmistakable chemistry didn’t do much for 2008’s so-so Baby Mama, and unfortunately, it still isn’t enough to help Jason Moore’s Sisters. That isn’t to say Sisters is a bad film, by any means (and it’s much better than Baby Mama); long-time Saturday Night Live genius Paula Pell penned the film and, for the most part, has given us a beautifully layered comedy-drama with a bit of heart at the end, perhaps relying too much on the natural bond between it’s two main stars and our pre-attachment to them, but still pacing things well with plenty of room for Fey and Poehler to work their magic.
The uncomplicated plot starts with a lot of potential, essentially reversing the characterisation of Baby Mama, where Fey plays Kate, an almost-40 year old who struggled with responsibility and raising her teenage daughter, because she still acts like a teenage daughter herself, a stark contrast to Poehler’s Maura, Kate’s sister who has a steady job and a steady outlook on life, but is still fairly naive when it comes to other people.
The two sisters are reunited when their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) decide to sell the family home in Orlando, resulting in some overly-sentimental resistance that inspires both sisters to throw an idealistic house party with all their old school friends from the area.
Fey and Poehler are at their best not when they are going back-and-forth with each other with dorky dairy confessions designed to over-explain character roles, but when they are teaming up on a support actor, bouncing off the other actors energy, which never can overshadow the dynamic on-screen duo. The perfect examples of this are their sardonic, hilarious flirting with Ike Barinholtz’s James, and conversely their witty, subtle shut-downs to John Leguizamo’s sleazy Dave. Both whom end up at the party and remain two of the more effective support characters.
The gaps between jokes do require a bit of dramatic acting though, and this is where things can get a bit tricky. Fey is fabulous when she’s in her element, but there are some emotions – an example being anger – she just can’t seem to capture well, putting dents in Kate as a character. Poehler is a bit more astute in this department, but even she seems to rely too heavily on her comedic charm during moments where a bit of seriousness would have served well.
Instead, Fey and Poehler need their third wheel, and thankfully they both have a whole cast of great characters to work with, like formidable frenemy Maya Rudolph and Greta Lee, the hilariously judgmental Korean manicurist who shares the film’s stand-out scene with Poehler. Most are used to help develop Kate and Maura and show their solidarity, and the rest are there purely for the next joke, like Bobby Moynihan whose geeky funny-not-funny Alex meets John Cena’s cocaine to become an excessive running gag, one of many which become too repetitive.
The strange unwillingness to actually end the movie stretches the final few acts a bit too far, but Sisters still ends up above average overall, constantly covering it’s mistakes with charm, beaming from not just the two leads, but from the supporting cast as well.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 118 minutes
Sisters is currently screening in Australian cinemas