Toilet humor meets family values in Sisters, the new comedy starring Amy Poehler and Tina Fey | Arts
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Friday, December 18, 2015

Toilet humor meets family values in Sisters, the new comedy starring Amy Poehler and Tina Fey

Posted by on Fri, Dec 18, 2015 at 9:57 AM

click to enlarge Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are odd-couple siblings throwing a final rager in their childhood home in Sisters. - PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
  • Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are odd-couple siblings throwing a final rager in their childhood home in Sisters.
Sisters


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Sisters stars Amy Poehler and Tina Fey as Maura and Kate Ellis, terminally immature siblings whose empty-nester parents decide to finally sell their childhood home. Poehler sweetly plays the straight woman to Fey’s not-totally-believable middle-aged lady gone wild. It’s a completely competent comedy that occasionally hits some very funny notes, though it mostly stays within the tried-and-true formula of mainstream American comedy: toilet humor meets family values.

In the spirit of revenge—and for the sake of giving Maura the bad-kid fun she never allowed herself to have—the sisters decide to throw a rager the night before the house is to be sold. The party ends up as a kind of communal purge for aging suburbanites in which rivalries are hashed out and property is damaged, but the darker tones are ultimately suppressed in favor of heartwarming family drama. Adults self-actualize; relationships are consummated.

Directed by Jason Moore, Sisters mobilizes a cadre of Saturday Night Live talent in bit parts, including Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch and Bobby Moynihan. Unfortunately, none of them are allowed enough screen time to really let their jokes rip. Dratch is one of the most criminally undercast actresses in American comedy; there is nothing she can’t make funny with her flat, dour under-delivery—a quality that really shines in her short appearances in Sisters.

The famed chemistry between Poehler and Fey remains; it's best expressed when they’re obviously going off script, as when they expand their abdomens through tight spandex and give each other belly high-fives. The pair has an uncanny gift for physical comedy, performing dance routines that are equal parts hammy and brilliant. But the script by Paula Pell seriously hampers Fey’s comedic gifts, stifling the brainy absurdist humor that is at the heart of her appeal and shoehorning her into the Sarah Silverman-esque territory of dick and pussy jokes. This is not essentially unfunny territory, but it can quickly become repetitive and boring in the absence of wittier material.

In a cultural landscape where the overwhelming message is that there’s room for only one woman, especially in the world of comedy, Fey and Poehler have been writing some of the best comedy of the aughts on 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, respectively. Television seems to be a more nurturing context than movies for weird talents like Fey and Poehler’s. Though female comedians have gained tremendous ground in the past few years, Sisters highlights how limited a category “funny” remains for women in Hollywood.

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