Your Sister’s Sister

After putting male insecurity under a comic microscope in "Humpday," writer-director Lynn Shelton hands the fairer sex a more prominent role in "Your Sister's Sister," another winning study of relational boundaries crossed and sexual dares gone awry.

With: Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mark Duplass, Mike Birbiglia.

After putting male insecurity under a comic microscope in “Humpday,” writer-director Lynn Shelton hands the fairer sex a more prominent role in “Your Sister’s Sister,” another winning study of relational boundaries crossed and sexual dares gone awry. With Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt blending nicely opposite mumblecore mainstay Mark Duplass, this deftly performed, semi-improvised three-hander reps a step up in polish and ambition from its predecessor — arguably too much ambition in an excess of late-breaking narrative complication. Nonetheless, the film, which IFC picked up at Toronto, boasts solid appeal for indie fans and mainstream moviegoers interested in trying a safe, tasty item from the smarthouse menu.

Stuck in a deep personal rut a year after the death of his brother Tom, Jack (Duplass) accepts an invitation from his best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), to spend a week alone at her family’s island getaway so he can reflect on his life. He arrives to find the house already occupied by Iris’ older sister, Hannah (DeWitt), and spends a few moments ogling her through the window before she hears a noise and nearly attacks him with an oar. Off to an awkward start, the two spend a long night loosening up over a bottle of booze, during which Hannah tells Jack she’s just broken up with Pam, her girlfriend of seven years.

Beautifully played by DeWitt and Duplass, the talk flows as smoothly as the tequila, sounding natural yet carefully judged in its pauses and inflections. Their conversation effortlessly introduces the pic’s pivotal incident as Jack, going a bit too far in reassuring Hannah how sexy she is, finds himself drunkenly suggesting a what-the-hell roll in the hay, a proposition the equally soused Hannah gamely accepts. The ensuing sex scene is over in a flash (the frantic search for a condom seems to last longer), but the consequences are almost immediate, especially when Iris surprises the pair by stopping by the house the next morning.

Jack begs Hannah not to tell her sister what happened the night before. Though initially unsure what the big deal is, Hannah agrees, gradually assessing that both Jack and Iris may be more emotionally attached than they realize or care to admit. As the three hang out, cook and go on long walks through the beautiful surrounding woods, Shelton lovingly nurses each relationship in this delicate configuration, bringing in sibling backstory in a light, offhand manner while remaining focused on the big secret whose exposure is clearly only a matter of time. Helmer’s touch is probing but surpassingly gentle in the way it allows these three flawed, fundamentally decent individuals to wound each other without ever devolving into mean-spirited recriminations.

Credited as creative consultants (along with a fourth thesp, Mike Birbiglia, who has a small but effective part near the beginning), the three leads are pitch-perfect here, loose and low-key yet fully in character. Duplass is on firm footing as a fun, talkative dude who goes amusingly into panic mode, while Blunt endears as the bubbly, optimistic gal with a knack for bringing people together. But it’s DeWitt who delivers the most moving performance as the quieter, more abrasive of the two sisters, her somewhat sharp manner barely concealing deep reserves of heartache and quiet desperation.

DeWitt’s accomplishment is all the more remarkable in that her role is the most problematically conceived, not only in its somewhat stereotypical outlines (artistically inclined vegan lesbian), but also in one concealed motivation that sends the film in an unexpected and not entirely welcome direction. An incisive study of human behavior would have been more than enough to sustain this affecting and affectionate feature through to its closing reels, yet the script seems to pack one or two more narrative beats than needed and ends on a note both ambiguous and pat.

Shelton retains much of her “Humpday” crew on a picture with a less aggressively handheld, off-the-cuff visual style and noticeably more music. Pic was lensed on the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state, and gorgeous shots of the scenery, often at sunset, add another layer of production polish.

Your Sister's Sister

Production: An Ada Films presentation. (International sales: UTA, Los Angeles/Submarine Entertainment, New York.) Produced by Steven Schardt. Executive producers, Vallego Gantner, Mark Duplass, Jennifer Roth, Lynn Shelton. Co-producers, Mel Eslyn, Megan Griffiths. Co-executive producers, Dave Nakauyama, Lance Rosen. Directed, written by Lynn Shelton.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Benjamin Kasulke; editor, Nat Sanders; music, Vinny Smith; music supervisors, Sandy Wilson, Mel Eslyn; production designer, John Lavin; sound, Smith; re-recording mixer, Dave Howe; associate producers, Kate Bayley, Jennifer Maas; assistant director, Jennifer Roth. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 12, 2011. Running time: 90 MIN.

Cast: With: Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mark Duplass, Mike Birbiglia.

More Scene

  • Sir Elton John, David Furnish. Sir

    New Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala to be Held in the South of France

    Elton John and David Furnish are launching a new gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The two will host the inaugural A Midsummer Party benefit on July 24 in the south of France at the Johnny Pigozzi’s private estate, Villa Dorane, in Cap d’Antibes. A cocktail reception will be followed by dinner, a live [...]

  • Dwayne Johnson Idris Elba

    Dwayne Johnson: Idris Elba Nixed 'Black James Bond' Joke in 'Hobbs & Shaw'

    In the “Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw,” the movie’s villain Brixton, played by Idris Elba, spreads his arms out wide and declares “I’m black Superman.” It turns out that might not have been the original line. Dwayne Johnson tells Variety that Elba was first asked to proclaim he’s “black James Bond,” but the [...]

  • Matteo BocelliAmerican Icon Awards Gala, Inside,

    Top Music Manager Calls Out American Icon Awards for Failing to Pay Talent

    The centuries-old adage no good deed goes unpunished is a common refrain for star music manager Scott Rodger of late. Rodger, who represents Paul McCartney and Andrea Bocelli at Maverick, says his client Matteo Bocelli, the son of the opera star, was stiffed out of promised expense reimbursement by the American Icon Awards. The event, [...]

  • Mary Bailey Steve D'Angelo, Jim Belushi

    Cannabis Industry Tackles Justice Reform With 'Last Prisoner Project'

    Jim Belushi is standing two feet away in the backyard of his spacious Brentwood home, honking a harp like he’s a Blues Brother back in sweet home Chicago accompanied by noted reggae band Rebelution’s Eric Rachmany and Kyle Ahern, who provide a 12-bar shuffle. There’s the sweet smell of skunk — and success — hanging [...]

  • Dwayne Wade holds up the legend

    Dwyane Wade, Megan Rapinoe Win Big at 2019 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports Awards

    The 2019 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Sports Awards was filled with incredible athletes, inspiring moments and — of course — a massive amount of slime. “I love the kids. I love the slime. I loved the games. I love seeing celebrities and athletes like become kids again. And it’s like my favorite thing,” Michael Strahan told [...]

  • Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani

    Dave Bautista Talks Representation in Hollywood and Defying Stereotypes with 'Stuber'

    Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani make an unlikely duo in “Stuber,” an R-rated comedy about a police officer and his Uber driver. But the two connected over the rare chance to star in the film as actors of Asian descent (Baustia is half-Filipino and Nanjiani is Pakistani). “I’ve been stereotyped for a couple different reasons [...]

  • Skin

    How Jamie Bell Transformed Into a Neo-Nazi for 'Skin'

    Anyone who still associates British actor Jamie Bell with his breakout role as a young boy who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer will quickly forget all about “Billy Elliot” after seeing “Skin,” which screened at ArcLight Hollywood on Thursday night. “I was shocked,” the film’s writer-director, Guy Nattiv, told Variety of his leading man’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content