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December 18, 2015

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler may have broken ground on R-rated comedies aimed at women, but it’s starting to feel like their talents are better served on the production side. It’s not that there’s not still plenty of room for them — Spy and Trainwreck are the only real standouts this year. And, for whatever it matters, they both still look fantastic, so I don’t mean this as some sort of slam against aging actresses. It’s just that Sisters feels like the same sort of superficially-edgy embarrassment humor that I was outgrowing when I stopped watching it on SNL years ago, and I know that both of these women are capable of better.

The major tweak here is that historically Fey/Poehler pairings have positioned Fey in the mature, responsible role and Poehler as an overgrown woman-child. This time, as a pair of sisters whose parents (Dianne Wiest, James Brolin) have sold their childhood home, it’s Poehler who plays the uptight Maura Ellis while Fey plays party-girl Katie. At least at first.

The sisters are devastated, especially when they learn that the prospective buyers are awful New York finance people. Given a weekend to clean out their pit of a room, they decide to throw one last “Ellis Island” bash, like when they were in high school. Evidently housing inspections in Florida go beyond structural issues, and if the whole place is a giant mess on Monday the sale might be cancelled and Katie can move back in, along with her teenaged daughter (Madison Davenport). On top of that, Katie agrees to act as “party mom” for once, so Maura can loosen up and maybe hook up with the guy fixing up his own house down the street (Ike Barinholtz).

The obvious problem is that, in party-movie terms, grown-up parties are lame. They highlight this with a clutch of SNL alums (Rachel Dratch, Bobby Moynihan, Chris Parnell) and other regular collaborators (Samantha Bee, Jon Glaser) being sad and trying way too hard, where the joke is supposed to be that they’re sad and trying way too hard. The solution: quick injections of drugs — courtesy of creepy high-school friend Dave (John Leguizamo) and his dealer Pazuzu (John Cena) — lesbians — complete with club DJ (Jackie Tohn) — and Korean nail-salon girls — led by new friend Hae-Won (Greta Lee).

Of course, there’s got to be an old high-school enemy too. Brinda (Maya Rudolph) and Katie have beef that goes way back, and when Katie snubs her for the new party Brinda sets out to destroy it, with increasingly spectacular and long-telegraphed results.

There is a point, midway through, when the party is raging and there’s a long stretch of gags that land one after another. Once the movie gets there, it’s actually pretty great fun, just like a good rager. The problem is that, like a real party, it takes a lot of work setting up before the fun can begin. That’s kind of tedious, offset only by the expectation of how much fun the party itself will be. And then, after the fun winds down, there’s a lot of tedious clean-up the morning after when you’re hung over and just want to go back to sleep and let somebody else pay attention. Maybe the adults are onto something with their lower-key parties after all.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test pass.

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