REVIEW: “Sisters” – Latest Fey, Poehler team-up falls flat

Sorry, SNL Weekend Update and Baby Mama fans: your favorite comedic tag team misses the mark with their latest effort, but not for lack of trying. Sisters, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, brings a few solid laughs scattered throughout its overly-long running time, but for the most part is a pretty forgettable feature film foray for these two talented comedians who have each starred in far better, smarter projects in recent years.

Fey and Poehler star as the Ellis sisters, Kate and Maura, respectively, who are called back to their childhood home in Orlando, Florida by their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) to clean out their bedrooms, as the family house has been sold. Though the two sisters couldn’t be more different — always responsible, always overbearing nurse Maura versus temperamental, ne’er-do-well nail technician Kate — their reaction to their folks’ decision to ditch the house the girls grew up in without so much as a head’s up is very similar: they freak out, each in their own signature ways.

Once resigned to the fact that they can’t talk their parents out of the sale, they throw themselves into the task at hand, and in the course of putting on old clothes and reading old diary entries, inspiration strikes: one last mega-party at the Ellis house, one final blowout, with all their old high school mates invited, this time with the specific intent of Maura getting to cut loose, rather than filling the role she always filled back in the day, that of the “party mom” that stays sober and makes sure the damage to life and property remains at a minimum.

Of course, there are a few subplots at work here, as well, which all come out at the worst possible times as the party kicks into gear: Kate’s broke, homeless, and jobless, while Maura has been secretly harboring Kate’s exasperated teenage daughter Haley (Madison Davenport) for the whole summer. Drama just waiting to explode as the shots get served, the house gets wrecked, and general chaos ensues. Sounds hilarious, right?

Okay, maybe that wasn’t exactly the best way to sell the sizzle, but even so, it’s pretty clear there’s not a whole lot of inspired stuff here.

Sisters teaser one sheet

The script for Sisters comes from longtime SNL and “30 Rock” writer Paula Pell, and had she perhaps stuck to the just the sisterly/family upheaval stories as well as the comedy inherent in a group of early forty-somethings kicking it at the party-to-end-all-parties, perhaps things might have flowed smoother. But Pell overstuffs this script with running gag on top of running gag in addition to the aforementioned subplots, and most of the extra stuff may have sounded funny on paper, but in execution just doesn’t work. Add to that a belabored sense of comic timing on the part of director Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect), who time and again throughout the film lets jokes run far too long, and its no wonder Sisters clocks in at nearly two hours. This is a film that’s desperately in need of editing, one that would have benefited greatly from a “theatrical version” versus an “unrated” home video version which could feature the longer running time and all those extra gags.

To be fair, it’s not all terrible. Arguably, the one recurring bit that does work best is the one featuring WWE superstar John Cena, playing a very intimidating and stoic drug dealer named Pazuzu who does his part to liven up the Ellis’s party just when things reach their most “adult” (translation = dull and depressing). There’s also a romantic story here involving Maura and her ridiculously awkward courtship of the neighbor from down the street, James (Ike Barinholtz), which is for the most part tedious to watch but does lead to one of the film’s funnier sequences involving a ballerina music box finding its way into a very uncomfortable place — to say anymore would be to ruin the joke, so you’ll just have to see it for yourself.

As for the film’s leads, there’s a little bit of fun to seeing Fey in particular play against the type we’re so used to seeing from her — Kate is as far removed from “30 Rock”‘s Liz Lemon as is imaginably possible — but oddly, her effort and Poehler’s both feel forced, as though they’re really trying to sell the funny in Pell’s script when maybe it’s not as funny as it was when they read through it. It’s actually very surprising, considering the talent involved here, how flat everything falls in Sisters — everyone involved here, including the supporting cast, which includes Maya Rudolph and John Leguizamo, is certainly capable of better.

To sum up, if you do choose to see Sisters, do yourself a favor and wait for home video. Yes, quite likely the digital/blu-ray edition will be even longer, but at least you can turn it off or switch to something else if you reach an “I’m done” point in the course of watching it. And yes, no matter how much you love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in everything else you’ve seen them in, you WILL reach that point.

Starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz, James Brolin, John Cena, John Leguizamo and Dianne Wiest. Directed by Jason Moore.
Running Time: 118 minutes
Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and for drug use.

Felix Albuerne
Felix Albuerne
One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.