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Ah... to be a 10-year-old kid again. To be at the age where you don't feel the need to be smart about the movies that you watch but you just watch them and enjoy them -- because they are movies. When I read that the 1990 comedy Sibling Rivalry was hitting Blu-ray, I was immediately transported back to the time when I bothered to tape the movie in question (maybe off of pay cable or, more likely, off of a rental copy -- shhh!, don't tell) and watched that tape numerous times. Admittedly, I sometimes get Sibling Rivalry mixed up with Madhouse, another Kirstie Alley vehicle that I also watched a bunch and that was also recently reissued on Blu-ray and that also originates from those heady post-Look Who's Talking days (how is it that that Amy Heckerling hit hasn't made the jump to BD, but freakin' Madhouse has?). Popping in the Sibling Rivalry disc now, I was immediately forced to puzzle over what I found so appealing about this movie as a kid. This puzzlement comes not because the film doesn't hold up -- although it doesn't really -- but because I must have been a strange kid to keep re-watching a low-impact farce about upper middle-class marital strife and infidelity.
It's more likely, I guess, that I really liked Kirstie Alley (a feeling I haven't really held onto in the past two decades or so). She is honestly still darn good as Marjorie Turner, a woman who feels neglected by her husband Harry (Scott Bakula) and alienated from his family members, who are all doctors. Pushed to a breaking point, Marjorie takes the advice of her wilder younger sister Jeanine (Jami Gertz) and has an afternoon affair with a handsome man with a bushy mustache (Sam Elliott, who else?). But Marjorie's troubles are just beginning, because her one-time lover dies in bed and it turns out that Mustache Man is her husband's estranged brother.
It's a strong set-up, but Martha Goldhirsh's busy script doesn't mesh with Carl Reiner's low-key directorial style here. It takes nearly half the film's running time to get a consistent comic rhythm going, and even then, it never reaches the manic screwball levels this kind of plot demands. Bill Pullman shows up as a slightly dim, down-on-his-luck salesman who thinks he killed Sam Elliott's character, and his jittery performance -- which recalls early Jim Carrey mixed with Superego's Matt Gourley at his most freeform -- seems like a remnant of a broader, slapstick-ier conception of the project. He -- like most of the talented cast, that also includes Carrie Fisher, Ed O'Neill, Frances Sternhagen, John Randolph, and Bill Macy -- feels oddly squandered.
Only Alley makes a significant impression, as bad decisions and unfortunate consequences snowball and her character starts to feel pressure on all sides. One of the few scenes I remembered perfectly from my youth was Marjorie's tearful revelation to her sister that Harry's brother died from the power of their lovemaking. The sister asks: "While you were--?" Marjorie quickly cuts her off: "After!" Then she thinks and says, "Oh, I hope it was after. Ewww!" Alley's overgrown-kid line-reading makes it one of the film's jokiest jokes, but she lands it. In fact, while there are relatively few reasons to check out Sibling Rivalry at this late date, the biggest of those reasons is to relive a time when Kirstie Alley was most famous for her comic chops rather than her tabloid-flavored public persona.
Sibling Rivalry looks pretty good in this AVC-encoded 1080p 1.85:1 transfer. Detail is quite good, although the level of film grain and attendant digital noise fluctuates throughout the film. Color and contrast are solid, but this is a fairly bland-looking movie in general.
No major complaints from the DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo audio track. Dialogue is clear and understandable. Jack Elliott's score is well-supported. Not much ambience, but there are some directional stereo effects throughout. They seem kind of like an afterthought, honestly, with most of the sound focused smack dab in the middle. No subtitles.
While not at all as horrifying to mine eyes as some dalliances from my youth that I've re-watched as an adult, Sibling Rivalry now appears to simply be a likable but strangely sedate (and sometimes frankly boring) effort. The flick's main asset is its ensemble cast of familiar faces, anchored by Kirstie Alley's still-effective turn as a guilty wife trying to get rid of the evidence of an ill-considered affair. There are some laughs here, so if you're curious, I say Rent It.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. His new single, Don\\\'t Depend on Me, is now available to stream or download on Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon, Apple, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed.