Sisters & Brothers
Starz / Anchor Bay // R // $26.99 // September 10, 2013
Review by Tyler Foster | posted September 30, 2013
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Graphical Version
To the less-attentive viewer, Sisters & Brothers might seem like a complete and fully-formed movie, but it's merely an optical illusion created by the film's talented cast. At least six of the film's ten central performers manage to lift impressive amounts of genuine emotion out of director / writer Carl Bessai's scattershot, clumsy screenplay, infusing a number of scenes with a sense of legitimacy. On closer inspection, however, it's hard to miss a number of gaping plot holes that clearly highlight the film's extensive problems.

The film focuses on four story threads, all of which deal with some form of sibling rivalry. The two primary threads (i.e., the ones with more star power) follow two brothers, Justin (Cory Monteith) and Rory (Dustin Milligan), and two sisters, Nikki (Amanda Crew) and Maggie (Camille Sullivan). Justin is a rising movie star who's seeing his brother for the first time since he ran off to Africa, where he's started a charity for African kids. Nikki, on the other hand, is just looking to break into the business, currently persisting on trying to find work in Canada when she knows the real work is in Los Angeles. Maggie has just gotten out of the hospital, and is currently staying with Nikki when she meets Henry (Tom Scholte), the brother of a popular TV star who he believes can hook him up with a meeting to pitch an idea for a TV show. Secondary threads include a 17-year-old girl (Kacey Rohl) who is shocked to learn her mother (Gabrielle Rose) gave birth to another daughter (Leena Munro) in India 30 years ago, and a woman (Gabrielle Miller) trying to care for her schizophrenic brother (Benjamin Ratner).

Reading that summary, it might occur to some readers that none of these characters are connected. It's a relief that this is not a lame magnolia riff where all of these characters end up crossing paths in subtle ways, but Bessai apparently worried that his film wouldn't feel cohesive without something to bring them together. His solution is to have all of the characters sitting down to be interviewed for a documentary about siblings. It's a stretch in and of itself (let's not forget, some of these characters literally live in a different country), but Bessai makes it weirder by never "explaining" the documentary within the narrative, or even showing us who's making it; because the viewer understands that a documentary is being made, Bessai believes they will accept it.

Bessai's sloppiness doesn't end there. On top of the already confusing documentary aspect, he layers in completely baffling comic book transitions which have no bearing on anything important in the story, and look -- like pretty much every "comic book" transition I've seen in a movie -- exceptionally cheap. The closest thing to a reason for this is a couple of very brief offhanded comments by Justin that he's being offered a superhero movie (creatively titled Blue Lantern), and maybe the exaggerated nature of the show Henry wants to pitch. It's an aggressively lazy shorthand to give the movie some bookends (zooming in and out of a digitized planet suggest what, exactly?), and to make scene transitions more interesting, I guess (now, instead of cutting, the camera pans out of a comic book frame to the phrase "Cut to:" before...panning down to the next frame, rather than cutting at all). The rest of the movie has a generic, handheld feel.

The only saving grace here is the cast, nearly all of whom locate that specific type of raw-nerve aggravation that comes from arguing with a sibling over the direction their lives are going or choices they've made. The only thread that never gains traction is the brother's mental illness, which is over-the-top and out of place (not to mention it makes the worst use of the comic book motif). It'd be forgivable to wonder if this release was just a cash-in on Montieth's sudden death, but Google results indicate it was slated for release just eight days before. Of course, Bessai's script doesn't pick up any of this slack, injecting artifice and convenience wherever possible (a sudden sexual encounter, random intrusive street punks, a car accident) to force each of his stories into unearned happy endings.

The Blu-Ray
Sisters & Brothers arrives in a standard eco-friendly Blu-Ray case with no insert. The artwork is vividly and eye-catchingly colored with bright pinks, oranges, and yellows, none of which are present in the actual film. The design is basically big heads.

The Video and Audio
It's hard to tell if it's a conscious choice on the part of the cinematographer or just a quirk of the digital photography, but a great deal of Sisters & Brothers looks very, very drab. Skin frequently drifts away from a healthy light pink and into pallid gray. Clarity is very strong, but detail is inconsistent; in many medium shots, skin texture is smeary or smooth, but the interview segments feature direct lighting and an oversharpened look that gives the actors' skin a greasy appearance. The drab color also occasionally flattens the picture by affecting the contrast, and noise creeps in from time to time. On the plus side, no banding or artifacting appears, which is kind of impressive. The best footages have a pleasing touch of softness and more natural colors.

Sound is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, which is thoroughly decent but not particularly remarkable. For the most part, this is a dialogue-heavy feature that doesn't present much of a challenge. It's not the kind of movie that envelops the viewer with the sound design, but environment impact on the dialogue is pleasing rather than off-putting, adding to the authenticity of scenes. Music spreads out a little, but it also overpowers the dialogue a little once or twice. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.

The Extras
None -- not even trailers before the menu.

Hardcore Monteith fans might -- might want to find Sisters & Brothers on TV or something to get a glimpse of his work, but even then, this disc isn't even worth an actual trip to the Redbox. Skip it.

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