Midway through the movie, I realized that Sisters, the newest collaboration from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, was not made for me. My first hint should have been the movie theater crowded with women in their 40s and 50s. While the Generation Xers cracked up at 80’s reference after reference, I—the only person under 40 in the theater—was left out. Sisters will be a great family movie night rental with parents, but for the college kiddos hoping for another Girl’s Night In addition to the repertoire, you will be disappointed.
Directed by Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) and with a screenplay by long-time SNL writer Paula Pell, Sisters plays on some familiar (and at times, cliché) themes for Gen X. Raising a teenager, holding down an unpleasant job, parents moving to a retirement home, and cleaning out the house you grew up in might ring bells for our parents, but will feel unfamiliar to Millenials. The real joy of the story comes from watching real-life best friends Fey and Poehler have fun together on screen.
Poehler is in familiar territory as Maura Ellis, the goody two-shoes younger sister two years out from a divorce (Amy divorced husband and actor Will Arnett in 2012), whose charitable and optimistic spirit recalls the iconic Leslie Knope. Fey’s stint as the irresponsible and hot-headed older sister Kate Ellis is impossibly (read: unbelievably) immature, and definitely someone with whom Liz Lemon would be frustrated to work. The sisters reunite to clean out their old bedroom before their parents sell their childhood home, and see the empty house as the perfect backdrop for one last crazy party reminiscent of their high school days. Unfortunately, this leads to a series of cliché subplots whose jokes you can likely guess: digging through childhood clothes and diaries; resenting parents for moving to a retirement home; finding old high school friends on Facebook; and the big party that gets out of hand.
The resulting party, charmingly dubbed “Ellis Island,” is an amusing example of art imitating life. The high school reunion of crazy characters in the movie is, in fact, a different sort of reunion for Fey and Poehler’s comedy colleagues. The assorted alumni of SNL, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and The Mindy Project bring with them the most entertaining (if somewhat predictable) scenes of grownups trying to recreate their crazy high school days.
Both post-prime time television celebrities with bestselling books, Fey and Poehler were clearly searching for a project to do together, and this one came at the right time. Was it the right movie choice? Perhaps not. Their fans will expect 30 Rock’s witty banter as an equal opportunity critic of politics, the 1%, and Hollywood; or may expect Parks and Recreation’s doe-eyed, popular culture-infused social commentary on small-town middle-class America with plenty of heart. Sisters grazes these territories but dives into neither. The most disappointing aspect of the movie is the expectation of smart humor foiled by the reality of slapstick drivel.
That said, there are a few truly hilarious moments for every age group. Sisters is best when it goes far beyond the cliché to the awkward and uncomfortable. Scenes with Fey and Poehler playing on their body image issues, or Poehler doing her best to be “politically correct” at a Korean nail salon. Most of the other jokes fall flat within the predictable subplots. The script’s attempt at tying everything up in a neat bow by the final scene results in a couple cringingly cheesy lines about “home” and “family” that don’t actually infuse more heart into the story.
As a long-time fan of Fey and Poehler—their shows, their standup, their screenplays, their books, their Golden Globes skits, and their women’s initiatives—I found myself optimistically hoping the film would get better with each scene. It truly is a joy to watch these intelligent and hilarious women together on screen, but ultimately the brand of smart and hard-hitting humor we have come to expect from them is distinctly absent. Unless you adjust your expectations accordingly, Sisters quickly turns from raucous family reunion into awkward family tension.
Save it for a Netflix night with your parents when you can’t agree on anything else to watch.