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Reviews of comedy movies constantly dismiss the plot as particularly important. "A clothesline on which to hang the jokes" -- I'm sure I've written that before. The only problem is that over the past ten years, "clothesline" used to constitute a basic story, one with a character arc that could be traced through the entire movie. Slowly but surely, these arcs have been compressed and compacted until it takes up about 15 minutes in the middle of the third act. Sisters is ostensibly about Maura (Amy Poehler) and Kate (Tina Fey) returning to their childhood home to clean out their room when their parents (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) abruptly decide to sell it, but it seems like nearly 80 of Sisters' 118 minutes is taken up by a single party (more if you count the preparation).
In case this seems like a total pile-on, let's be clear: Fey and Poehler are two of the funniest people currently living, and they are joined by an Expendables-grade collection of fellow comedians, including Maya Rudolph, Bobby Moynihan, Rachel Dratch, Samantha Bee, Kate McKinnon, Jon Glaser, and Chris Parnell, to name just a few. To that you can also add less familiar faces like Greta Lee as stone-faced nail salon employee, and John Cena sticking another golden comedy cameo under his belt next to Trainwreck. There is no question that Sisters is funny, and funny with a reasonable consistency. The opening scenes are a little off-key, but the film's laughs increase as it goes along, which is an impressive feat in and of itself.
At the same time, there is simply no movie in Sisters. There are scenes which give Fey and Poehler something to chew on dramatically that work, tackling long-repressed feelings and the terror of uncertainty as life marches on, but these beats feel sprinkled haphazardly into the movie, rather than crafted onto a strong story that makes an obvious effort to build, develop, and reveal. The best comedies aren't just funny, they're also smart, and the more thought that goes into a laugh, the more memorable it can be. Sisters provides an opportunity for talented, funny people to riff and improvise, but it would not only be better if it felt more developed and crafted, but there's no reason that effort has to get in the way of the pleasures that the finished product already contains.
For the majority of filmgoers, the in-the-moment comedy of Sisters will be satisfying enough, and again, to be absolutely clear, there's no reason not to enjoy the movie that way. Obviously, Fey and Poehler have crackling comic chemistry (their synchronized dancing is as heartwarming as it is hilarious), and there is a nice little romance as well, between Maura and charmingly dorky local James (Ike Barinholtz). It's a fine movie, but it's hard not to feel as if titans like Sisters' stars deserve a movie that lives up to a higher standard than the increasingly tired Apatow model that's already a decade old.
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