Fall is here now, and despite the patch of warm weather we’ve been experiencing lately, the abundance of leaves on the ground and appearance of Christmas decorations and commercials say otherwise. Now is the time to bundle up and prepare for the impending Thanksgiving feasts and family get-togethers. The concept of the family unit is one that is often represented on film, from the ultimate supportive father figure Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird to the ultimate crime family of the Corleones in The Godfather and the completely dysfunctional families from The Royal Tenenbaums, Little Miss Sunshine, etc. As we approach the holiday season and spend countless hours with beloved family members, I wanted to focus on films by women that highlight and celebrate families in interesting ways.
My selected film for this week is Lynn Shelton’s 2011 film Your Sister’s Sister.
Set in chilly Washington State, Jack (played by the always loveable Mark Duplass) is struggling one year after the death of his brother. After a meltdown at a memorial ceremony, Jack’s best friend (and his brother’s ex-girlfriend) Iris, played by Emily Blunt, invites him to take a retreat at her father’s isolated island cabin. When Jack arrives, he is surprised to find Iris’s half-sister Hannah (the highly underrated Rosemarie DeWitt) there, who is dealing with the end of a long relationship. The encounter between Jack and Hannah leads to revelations between the two, and another layer of complication is added when Iris herself arrives unexpectedly the next morning.
Shot in only twelve days and with partly improvised dialogue, what makes Your Sister’s Sister so special is how real it feels. Jack and Iris and Hannah aren’t just characters on the screen; they feel like people you could know, people you do know. They could even be you. In particular, grief is a tricky thing to portray in film, as it takes many different shapes and forms, but Duplass does an amazing job at showing the subtleties of it. You can see the impact that this loss has on Jack: it’s in every expression, every action and reaction, every pose, every decision. It’s hard to convey these aspects in a subtle way such as this, but he nails it.
As the titular sisters, Blunt and DeWitt are superb. They behave like actual sisters would, a credit to both Shelton’s script and the improvisation between the actresses. I saw so much of my own sister and myself in these two, which made it easier to connect with and fall in love with them as people. Similarly, Jack and Iris have a strong bond of friendship that feels so real and relatable, strengthening the film. What could have just been a simple story about three people hanging out in a cabin became instead—in the hands of an amazing writer/director—a story about complicated relationships (between brothers and sisters, friends, and lovers) and the ways we communicate with them. Why do we keep secrets? How do these secrets hurt others? How do these actions affect our relationships? These are questions the film poses, but it never feels forced. Family bonds are important, but what this film also suggests is that we have the power to create our own family.
This film is honest, with lots of heart and just as many laughs, making it the perfect film to watch in time for Thanksgiving. Your Sister’s Sister is a film that I have seen many times over, and every time I watch it I find that I love it even more. It’s a film that will touch your heart and refuse to let go, even after the credits roll. Lynn Shelton has gone on to direct more feature films and episodes of television since, and I can’t wait to see what else she has in store for us. Whatever it may be, I know that it will have me crying and laughing in equal measure, and that’s a compliment.
Your Sister’s Sister is currently streaming on Netflix. You can also rent it on iTunes.
Here are some more films opening this weekend!
Suffragette, dir. Sarah Gavron (opening at the Downer on 11/7)
Miss You Already, dir. Catherine Hardwicke (opening at AMC Mayfair 18 on 11/7)
For those of you interested in learning more about and discussing women in the film industry, and the gender inequality that exists there, I recommend checking Reel Women, a new student organization dedicated to creating a safe space for all genders to start a dialogue about these inequalities. They meet every two weeks on Tuesdays at 6:30 PM in Mitchell Hall, Room B61. The next meeting is on November 17th. You can follow Reel Women on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr for updates and more information.