It’s a testament to Amy Poehler and Tina Fey that Sisters is as consistently funny as it is. One can only cringe at the number of ways this film would have gone haywire in lesser hands. But it doesn’t, and the movie hits more than it misses as Poehler and Fey, who could convincingly be real-life sisters at this point, entertainingly tread R-rated territory. Though light on plot and in need of a runtime haircut, Sisters is as rapid fire, energetic, and raunchy as any comedy this year.
Poehler stars as Maura, a goody-two-shoes nurse. Her older sister, Kate (Fey), is impulsive, recently unemployed, and the mother to college-aged Haley (Madison Davenport), who’s rapidly losing faith in her mom as a competent parent. After hearing that their own parents, Bucky (Brolin) and Deana (Dianne Wiest), are planning to sell the family home to downsize, the two race to Orlando to stop them. They’re too late, left with nothing to do but clean out their old bedrooms. But then they formulate a crazy idea: invite all their old high school friends over and host one last throwback bash to their landmark parties of the late 1980’s.
Surprisingly enough, neither Poehler or Fey had a writing hand in Sisters. It feels like their fingerprints as all over it as writer Paula Pell packs in as many jokes as she can, with most of them drawing chuckles at minimum and belly laughs regularly. Director Jason Moore does have tendency to let mediocre jokes trail on far too long (an extended Scarface reference is flat bad). Fortunately, there’s always something around the corner that works. A budding romance between Maura and the neighborhood handyman, James (Barinholtz), feels fresh and takes a completely hilarious and unexpected turn. Pell even works in a good amount of heart and reflection about how kids need to move on from their parents and not spend every waking hour worrying about them as they enter their senior years. The core plot is pretty thin, with the subplot about Fey’s daughter barely even registering. But Sisters exists as a mile-a-minute joke machine, and in that capacity it succeeds.
Poehler and Fey are both in top form, particularly Fey playing against-type as a foul-mouthed, wild, and youthful mother. The supporting cast is as good, led by dryly hilarious turns from James Brolin and Dianne Wiest as the girls’ increasingly impatient parents. John Cena, appearing in his second hilarious comedy this year (Trainwreck), gets a lot of mileage out of his one-note drug dealer character. Maya Rudolph gets plenty of laughs on her own as a stuck-up realtor and former classmate. Ike Barinholtz, as the comedic straight man, keeps things on the level while playing a convincing love interest for Maura. Bobby Moynihan, as the socially awkward Alex, comes dangerously close to wearing out his welcome in the second act but gets funnier the more cocaine he does.
Like most nearly-two-hour comedies, Sisters does run long in the tooth and curiously elongates some of the weaker material. A twenty-minute chop would tighten up some of the extraneous plot threads and shore up an already-thin narrative. The good news is the film packs an excellent laughs-per-minute number and Poehler and Fey are simply a joy to watch. Better late than never, Sisters is one of 2015’s funniest movies.
Studio: Universal Pictures
Length: 118 Minutes
Rating: R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and for drug use.
Theatrical Release: December 18, 2015
Directed by: Jason Moore
Written by: Paula Pell
Cast: Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz, James Brolin