Po festiwalu
Gazeta Festiwalowa "Na horyzoncie", nr 7
25 lipca 2012
A Family Affair

Comedy dramas, particularly romantic comedies, are rarely screened at film festivals. So the inclusion of Lynn Shelton's ‘Your Sister's Sister’ at New Horizons this year is a welcome one.

It could be argued that festival programmers are a glum and surly bunch, who seem to find more pleasure in the morose than the amusing. Perhaps with good reason; humour doesn't travel well, whereas suffering recognises no border.

With a few exceptions, only American comedies play around the world, although cinemas would certainly benefit from less of them. The golden days of the great Hollywood comedy have long since passed. Their sparkling wit and meticulously constructed scripts have been replaced by predictable scenarios featuring lazy performances from a slew of over-familiar, over-paid actors. (Do we really need another humour-free Jennifer Lopez vehicle?) And the characters they play relay mind-numbing platitudes that offer as much insight into human behaviour as an enema does the intricacies of the mind. To find an American comedy worth watching, one needs to look beyond studios and stars.

The last decade saw the emergence of Mumblecore, a progression on the slacker sub-genre of the early 1990s. The films are low-budget snapshots of contemporary life, mostly focussing on the lives of twentysomethings. And they are very funny. Key filmmakers include Andrew Bujalski (‘Funny Ha Ha’, 2002) and Joe Swanberg (‘Alexander the Last’, 2009), as well as siblings Jay and Mark Duplass (‘Cyrus’ [2010] and last year's’ Jeff, Who Lives at Home). The latter has also proven to be a versatile actor, most notably in Lynn Shelton's ‘Humpday’ (2009) and now ‘Your Sister's Sister’.

Shelton's latest opens with main character Jack losing his temper at a gathering to commemorate the first anniversary of his brother's death. Iris, his closest friend, orders him to take some time off and stay at her family's country retreat. Unbeknown to both of them, Hannah, Iris' sister, has already arrived there, seeking solace following a break-up with her long-term girlfriend. Jack's arrival results in an embarrassing exchange between them. But as the strangers settle down for a night of drinking, the frosty atmosphere soon gives way to something warmer. If they only knew that they were about to be joined by another visitor.

Duplass excels as Jack. Charismatic, without sporting classically good looks, he exudes a modest charm. Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays Hannah and is probably best known for her titular role in Jonathan Demme's painfully funny ‘Rachel Getting Married’ (2008), successfully navigates between churlish self interest and the pain of a brittle, damaged soul. However, the standout performance is Emily Blunt's, as Iris. Such is her success in recent years, Blunt could easily forego such low-key material in favour of larger Hollywood fare. To do so would rob cinema of an actress with innate comic timing, who thrives on a script as well-written as Shelton's.

Although the shoot of ‘Your Sister's Sister’ (whose budget was a minuscule $80,000) was conducted over a few weeks, the cast had been developing their characters for more than a year. The script grew out of that process, with additional improvisation on location. The result is one of the best romantic comedy dramas of recent years. It reinforces Alfred Hitchcock's claim that 'to make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.' It's a rule that Shelton has taken to heart and one that more filmmakers should pay attention to.

Ian Haydn Smith
Editor, International Film Guide

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