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Universal // Unrated // March 15, 2016
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted March 18, 2016 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Esteemed Saturday Night Live writer Paula Pell turns her attention to a feature-length sketch with Sisters, centered on a pair of siblings -- one who's professionally successful but socially uncomfortable; the other who's a social butterfly but struggles to hold down a job and raise her teenage daughter -- who decide to throw a massive party in their childhood home before it gets sold to another family. With vets Amy Poehler and Tina Fey filling the respective personalities of the sisters and Pitch Perfect director Jason Moore bringing his energetic flair to the scenario, the hope is that this creative foursome will deliver a no-holds-barred, vivacious comedy alongside the natural rapport between the two actresses. Sisters doesn manage to accomplish what it sets out to do by inviting both raunchy shenanigans and sentiment to the festivities, yet those two sides rarely authentically mingle with one another, becoming problematic as it tries much too hard to get its laughs and overstays its welcome within a two-hour runtime.

Buttoned-up nurse Maura Ellis (Amy Poehler) learns from her parents (James Brolin; Dianne Wiest) that they're planning on selling their childhood home, a picturesque and spacious house in Orlando's suburbs, and that she'll need to inform her chaotic sister, Kate (Tina Fey), of the situation. Kate, an out-of-work stylist whose daughter, Haley, has been avoiding her over the course of the summer, accepts an invitation to return home with another agenda in mind: to possibly shack up at that childhood haven until things get settled in her life. After learning the truth of why she's there, to pack up her old bedroom as the last step of getting the house ready to be sold, Kate shifts gears and suggests to Maura that they should throw a huge final party. Doubling as a class reunion and a not-so-subtle way of giving the house some wear and tear before the sale of the property, their extravaganza should hopefully work out some of the pent-up issues going on with both siblings, including Maura's need for romance after her divorce.

Former "Weekend Update" and Golden Globe hosts Fey and Poehler obviously know how to play off each other's personality quirks, which delivers on a few laughs here and there throughout Sisters, purely on their dedicated comedic energy. Unfortunately, that rapport reads less like a sisterly bond and more like high-school chums, with the sibling bond getting lost somewhere between the script from Paula Pell and outlandish stretches featuring the pair's goofy antics over skimpy clothing, booze, and flirting with a home remodeler, James (Ike Barinholtz), down the street from their parent's place. Fey and Poehler dial up the vulgar language and physical comedy in some respectably daring ways, yet the expletive-ridden dialogue and juvenile body gestures comes across as trying too hard for the sake of pushing that envelope, drawing attention to their bravery instead of whether the comedy actually works. Some of it does, but much of the intentional immaturity falls flat and doesn't really jibe with the family-based undercurrent.

Strangely enough, part of the problem lies in the characters embodied by the dynamic duo in Sisters. Maura isn't far-removed from Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation, whose straight-laced mannerisms lead to awkwardness whenever she's forced to act outside her comfort zone. The humor plays out about the same way as she clumsily flirts with James and reads passages from her "boring" childhood diary, replacing Knope's dedication to public service with the vague and restrictive dedication to caring for others that previously brought joy to Maura's life. Fey, on the other hand, takes on the attributes of a radically different character than the professional, uptight roles she's previously undertaken, letting her freak-flag fly with Kate's brash sense of humor and destructive recklessness. Thing is, outside of her conversations with her daughter, the character comes across as if she's trying to impersonate that kind of aged impetuous persona, forcing vulgarities through her stiff mannerisms.

Despite a bounty of cheeky cameos, from Maya Rudolph as a bitter classmate to another amusing appearance from John Cena as a jacked, formidable drug dealer, the party itself in Sisters becomes a klutzy affair with drawn-out gags and stilted chemistry all-around. At first, there's amusement to be found in how a group of forty-somethings transform a dull party full of middle-age mortality concerns into a colorful, under-the-influence extravaganza, but the subsequent chaos that ensues -- drug overdosing, objects getting lost in people's anal canals, even natural disasters -- goes way over-the-top and loses that clever dose of humor. Director Moore brings a vivid, musical tempo to the antics and both Poehler and Fey give it their all, but, intentional or not, the resulting wave of adults doing zany adolescent things makes for a tiresome and overly self-satisfied event, as if a skit on SNL had been going on much longer than it should have.

The Blu-ray:

Sisters crashes the Blu-ray party in a fairly standard package from Universal, arriving in a two-disc blue plastic case that includes the high-definition disc and a fairly loaded DVD Copy as well. A cardboard slipcover with raised lettering adorns the outside of the case, largely replicating the front and back artwork designs. A Digital HD slip can be found on the flipside of the Universal promo sheet for their other comedies. Both the Theatrical (1:57:46) and a slightly longer yet marginally-different Unrated Cut (2:02:24) have been included on this Blu-ray.

Video and Audio:

Sisters boasts the kind of lucid photography one might expect out of a modern comedy, shifting from the bright shots of a sun-drenched landscape (a mixture of Orlando and Long Island) to the strong, colorful sights and sounds of the rambunctious party later on. Universal's Blu-ray, framed at 2.40:1 within a 1080p AVC encode, does an impeccable job of capturing the little details scattered throughout the sisters' bedroom, garments, tattoos and splashes of all manner of fluid. Skin tones are faultlessly natural and responsive to different calibers of lighting, while vibrant shades of green in foliage and bright colors in clothing remain strong without any hint of bleeding. The neon lights and brightly-lit pool water of the party hour offer different high-definition delights, hallmarked by vivid shades of pink and blue in the darkness alongside carefully-textured details in brick walls and, uh, interestingly painted wall art. Aside from mediocre black-level balance in dimmer sequences, it's a great digital transfer.

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks follows suit with the visual transfer, delivering about what's expected of a modern comedy film on Blu-ray: strong emphasis on dialogue and music, with stronger moments of bass punch appearing in louder party sequences. Before the grand Ellis sister shindig, the track focuses entirely on keeping verbal clarity evenly balanced with the musical touches, while utilizing the front channels for mild separation within their childhood house, in boutiques, and at the nail salon. Dialogue never experiences any clarity issues, keeping both Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's distinctive voices in a clear and organic spot at the center of the track. As soon as the party starts, however, the bass starts pounding, the bodies start flying, and all manner of destruction goes down, which taps into deep, punchy bass and moderate high-end clarity throughout. Some sound effects suffer from a slight amount of restraint, but otherwise? A solid sonic package for a comedy. English, Spanish, and French subs are available.

Special Features:

SNL alums Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Paula Pell bring director Jason Moore into the fold for a conversational Audio Commentary, mixing insights into the shooting locations with musings about their rapport with one another and the delights of filming. They discuss transforming Long Island into Orlando, little production details that add personality to the film, and some of the personal / real-life roots of Paula Pell's script. The energy stays consistent but low-key throughout the track, incorporating small pieces of humorous discussion from the foursome as they form a picture of the film's construction. Note that the commentary was designed to be listened alongside the theatrical cut of the film.

The most substantive extra, aside from the commentary, can be found in A Teen Movie for Adults ... (10:26, 16x9 HD), which layers interviews atop a wealth of behind-the-scenes shots of the lengthy party half of the film, including some impressive glimpses at the production design that went into constructing the house itself. The Original Sister (6:40, 16x9 HD) highlights the origins of the film's essence in Paula Pell's childhood journal as the cast members read passages from it, while Pool Collapse FX (:50, 16x9 HD) quickly illustrates the computer wizardry that went into a higher-impact sequence from the film.

Along with an extensive run of nine Deleted Scenes (18:03, 16x9 HD), seven Extended Scenes (16:54, 16x9 HD), and a Gag Reel (3:17, 16x9 HD), the Blu-ray for Sisters comes equipped with a collection of raw improvised/unused content from the film: The Improvorama (8:40, 16x9 HD) finds Fey and Poehler in the car; How to Throw A Party (1:36, 16x9 HD) focuses on a pair of party "advisers"; Grown-Up Parties Suck (5:18, 16x9 HD) highlights the boring and depressing side of the partygoers; The Alex Chronicles (2:51, 16x9 HD) features the overly-animated funny man at the shindig; and the Kate and Pazuzu Chronicles (2:05, 16x9 HD) features Fey and John Cena's interactions.

Final Thoughts:

The pairing of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler isn't entirely a sure bet for quality comedy, evidenced by the likes of Baby Mama, but they do carry a certain degree of expectation whenever they appear ... well, in pretty much anything, be it live skits, hosting duties, or in films. Unfortunately, Sisters doesn't capitalize on that potential: with Fey in an atypical role for her as chaotic hairdresser and Poehler in the too-comfortable zone of an uptight, rule-following caregiver, their latest comedy -- written by SNL's Paula Pell and directed by Jason Moore -- overestimates its outlandish gags and vulgar mischievousness. It attempts to embody the reckless energy of teenage comedies within the story of middle-aged siblings losing their childhood home and sending it off with a blow-out celebration, but the broad humor works too hard for meager laughs and doesn't really jibe with its underlying emotions about family and aging, under-utilizing its capable cast of comedic talents. Universal's Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic, and comes with a solid arrangement of extras that include a commentary, deleted/extended scenes, and a few worthwhile featurettes, but the comedy doesn't have the longevity for anything beyond a Rental.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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