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Film Review: ‘Perfect Sisters’

A cartoonish and crudely staged dramatization of a disturbing true crime.

With:
Abigail Breslin, Georgie Henley, Mira Sorvino, James Russo, Rusty Schwimmer, Zoe Belkin, Jeffrey Ballard, Jonathan Malen, Stephan James, Zak Santiago, Caleb Pederson, Braden Pederson.

Ineffectual and cartoonish, “Perfect Sisters” dramatizes a case that shocked Canada a decade ago, when two teenage girls killed their alcoholic mother in order to be free of the chaos wrought by her perpetual irresponsibility — a well-planned crime that several of their classmates knew about before it happened. TV producer Stan Brooks’ first directorial feature provides scant psychological depth, drawing its characters and staging their incidents in crude fashion, despite superficial production gloss. A limited U.S. theatrical launch April 11 is unlikely to significantly heighten visibility for a pic already available on demand and destined primarily for smallscreen sales.

Based on Toronto Star reporter Bob Mitchell’s true-crime tome (which is purportedly far less sympathetic toward the protags), Fabrizio Filippo and Adam Till’s script introduces us to high schoolers Sandra (Abigail Breslin) and Beth (Georgie Henley of “The Chronicles of Narnia” films) as they, along with a little brother, suffer yet another move to new digs. The cause is, once again, their divorced mom Linda (Mira Sorvino) and her penchant for the bottle, which inevitably causes her to lose jobs and get them evicted. When she acquires a new boyfriend (James Russo) to pay the bills, his abuse and general creepiness hardly improve the family’s lot beyond the realm of rent.

Figuring they might actually be better off without Mom — but with an insurance settlement — the sisters hash out potential matricidal scenarios with best friends Justin (Jeffrey Ballard) and Ashley (Zoe Belkin), though whispers quickly spread beyond that close circle. Nonetheless, the real-life figures (whose names aren’t used here, since they were still minors when convicted) managed to pass the deed off as an accidental death for a time. They remain controversial figures in Canada, since they were incarcerated for only a few years each and subsequently attended universities on scholarship.

The unimaginative telepic tenor is varied — but not improved — by broad bits in which Sorvino plays various caricatured “ideal” mother figures. Mixing the heroines’ puerile fantasies with their much-less-than-ideal reality is a potentially interesting idea, but “Perfect Sisters” is no “Heavenly Creatures,” to say the least. Nor does the cliched dialogue or just-OK cast (in which Henley comes closest to creating a rounded character) help ground disturbing events in a credible everyday milieu a la “Razor’s Edge” and other fact-inspired tales of teen homicide. Still, the pic somewhat improves in its last third, when the deed is done and the girls prove very poorly equipped to keep their secret.

Shot in Winnipeg (the actual events took place in Mississauga, Ontario), the pic is competent but rather flavorless in all tech/design departments.

Film Review: 'Perfect Sisters'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, April 10, 2014. Running time: 101 MIN.

Production: (Canada) A Gravitas Pictures release (in Canada/U.S.) of a Stan & Deliver Films presentation of a Julijette production. Produced by Juliette Hagopian, Damian Ganczewski. Executive producers, Michael Rotenberg, Cathy Rollo, Tony Rollo. Co-producer, Fritzi Horstman.

Crew: Directed by Stan Brooks. Screenplay, Fabrizio Filippo, Adam Till, based on the book “The Class Project: How to Kill a Mother, the True Story of Canada’s Infamous Bathtub Girls” by Bob Mitchell. Camera (color, HD), Stephanie Weber-Biron; editor, Robin Katz; music, Carmen Rizzo; music supervisors, Mary Ramos, Holly Adams; production designer, Gord Wilding; costume designer, Noreen Landry; art director, Scott Rossell; sound, Stan Mak; re-recording mixer, Cory Mandel; supervising sound editor, Nelson Ferreira; assistant director, Ronaldo Nacionales; casting, Shana Landburg, Stephanie Gorin.

With: Abigail Breslin, Georgie Henley, Mira Sorvino, James Russo, Rusty Schwimmer, Zoe Belkin, Jeffrey Ballard, Jonathan Malen, Stephan James, Zak Santiago, Caleb Pederson, Braden Pederson.

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