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Your Sister’s Sister is a brisk film with vibrant emotional color

click to enlarge My sister did what?
  • My sister did what?
At first, Jack is not a nice guy. Later, he becomes better. In the end, you care about him, and forgive his failings.

But his failings remain, and that’s important.

All of the characters in Seattle-based director Lynn Shelton’s new film, Your Sister’s Sister, trace similarly nuanced arcs from battered to healing.

The film opens with Jack (Mark Duplass), on the one-year anniversary of his brother’s death, making an asshole of himself in front of a big group of friends. Iris (Emily Blunt) was Jack’s brother’s girlfriend at one point, but they broke up before he died. She seems to harbor some guilt about that, and also some feelings for Jack.

Whatever unspoken attraction exists, the two describe themselves as best friends. Jack’s in a bad way, and Iris sends him — via bike, in mid-winter — to her family’s lake cabin on an island outside Seattle to dry out and/or get perspective.

Beating him there, though, unannounced, is Iris’ half-sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who’s just walked out on a seven-year relationship. Hannah’s a lesbian, but after a night of Jose Cuervo and over sharing, she and Jack end up having awkward sex. Things get complicated when Emily shows up too. Emily has something to tell Jack and, of course, Jack and Hannah now have a secret between them, too. This plot could easily be a hysterical, overblown dramedy, but Shelton is an assured, restrained filmmaker.

The emotional turns here aren’t those broad, arcing slaloms of mainstream Hollywood. They’re tight and directed. The film is barely 90 minutes and covers only a few days in these characters’ lives. Not a second is wasted and Shelton makes no unbelievable leaps. No one’s ever beyond fixing here, and no one gets completely fixed.

The changes that happen aren’t huge, but they’re enough. They’re all that a story about change really needs: enough to understand the problem and enough to see that a solution is in sight.

Shelton, who also wrote the script, engages in very few tragi-rom-com clichés, but she’s not immune to them. Sister’s Sister has moments of schmaltz — a shaft of bucolic light that frames Jack’s face as he hipsters around the San Juans — and one moment of truly odd bike abuse, but it’s over before anything can get too Adam Sandler-ish. Or even approach it.

This is incredibly brisk and affecting filmmaking. Credit Shelton for the economy of story, and credit the cast for an equal economy of emotion.

Your Sister’s Sister is less a love triangle than a prism. Each relationship refracts its own light and bends the light of the others, turning a short film full of small words and deeds into a kaleidoscope of emotional color.

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