Your Sisterís Sister
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Director Lynn Shelton is best known for her part in the mumblecore movement, directing improvised, low-budget films like 2009ís awkward but amusing Humpday. Throughout the last few years, these off-the-cuff indies have been all the rage, but the movementís generally rambling, often uncomfortable films (like the Duplass brothersí Baghead) never completely worked for meóor at least not until I caught Sheltonís effortless new improvised offering, Your Sisterís Sister, at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.

Sheltonís fellow mumblecore director (and Humpday star) Mark Duplass is Jack, a forlorn young man whose life fell apart when his brother, Tom, died a year ago. Concerned about Jackís wellbeing, his best friend (and Tomís ex-girlfriend), Iris (Emily Blunt), sends him away to her fatherís secluded cabin to find himself back. Once he arrives, though, he finds that heís not alone. Irisís older sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), is also at the cabin, recovering from a break-up.

  
 
The lonely duoís awkward introduction becomes more awkward with some help from a bottle of tequila. And things get even more complicated when Iris arrives the next morning.

From the filmís first scenes, itís obvious that this isnít just another clumsy, rambling mumblecore project. Everything just feels more put together. The improvised lines feel pure and genuine, the characters are well developed, and even the cinematography is crisp and clear. As a result, Your Sisterís Sister feels like an actual film, with real characters and a real storyónot just a film school experiment, filmed with a Handycam by some kids from class one Saturday afternoon.

Still, like most mumblecore-style films, Your Sisterís Sister is extremely chatty. Thereís a whole lot of talk and not a lot of actionóyet thereís nothing dull about it. Instead, the conversations are captivating and delightfully entertaining, thanks to the small but remarkably talented cast and crew.

With traditional Hollywood actresses like Blunt and DeWitt in two of the three main roles, the improvisation could have gone horribly wrong. Fortunately, though, both actresses do an outstanding job of delivering their lines naturally and comfortably, neither clamming up nor rambling on too long. In fact (as their more improv-experienced co-star pointed out during a post-screening Q&A at the Toronto International Film Festival), their natural performances give Duplass an extra boost, too. The mumblecore veteran gives his best performance yet, reining in his rambling to make Jack sweet and funny and lovably awkwardónot just a bumbling, babbling idiot.

With Your Sisterís Sister, Shelton achieves what mumblecore films seek to accomplish but rarely do: she creates a film that feels both real and cohesive. Even more than just a successful mumblecore film, though, Your Sisterís Sister is an all-around success. The cast has great chemistry, and their improvised lines reveal plenty of twists and surprises to tell a story thatís funny and emotional and realistically messed-up.


Blu-ray Review:
Unfortunately, the Blu-ray release of Lynn Sheltonís charming mumblecore rom-com, Your Sisterís Sister, isnít exactly feature-filled. In fact, the disc doesnít even have a special features menuóso youíll have to dig through the settings to find the included commentary tracks.

It definitely would have been worth including some decent-quality footage from the post-screening Q&As at the Toronto Film Festivalóbecause the one I attended was definitely enlightening. Of course, youíll get some of the same insights from the filmís pair of commentary tracksóone with Shelton and Duplass, the other with Shelton, her DP, production designer, composer, and gaffer. Youíll just have to invest a little more of your time.

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