dir: Lynn Shelton
What is Mark Duplass bribing people with in order to keep turning up in all these films lately? Has he got some great weed? An abundance of serious green bankroll from all those indie megahits he’s co-directed or starred in? A fantastically long penis that not only hits all the right spots but sings a sweet, melancholy torch song afterwards?
However he’s doing it, here he is again, at least from the perspective of my week, in that I’ve accidentally seen him in two films in only a few days. What a harsh coincidence. What cruellest fate in the kindest month.
At the very least I can console myself with the fact that I enjoyed his performance, goofy performance at that, much more than I did in Safety Not Guaranteed. It helps that he’s not playing a mental case here. His character here, all the same, is somewhat depressed, and a bit obnoxious, so it’s not like he’s stretching himself out of all shape or comfort zones.
A group of friends, and the brother (Duplass) of a guy who died the previous year, get together to remember him and to have a drink in his honour. We don’t know who the guy was, but one of the attendees (stand up comedian Mike Birbiglia) gets up and says some nice words, making people, including Iris (Emily Blunt), an ex-girlfriend of the guy, get all misty-eyed and nostalgic.
Jack takes this as an opportunity to unleash a bit of drunken vitriol aimed at his dead brother, chastises the speaker for painting such a rosy picture of the departed, saying that, really, his brother was a bit of a manipulative arsehole as well, relating some obscure part of their shared backstory to illustrate what a prick his brother was.
Of course the other attendees, drinks raised but facial expressions getting somewhat uncomfortable, don’t want to hear this shit. Jack persists, though, he wants people to remember the whole man, and they can’t do that if they just talk about his love of puppies and rainbows.
Maybe he’s got a good point. A year is probably long enough after the fact to not be “too soon” to piss on the grave. His lashing out, though, is seen, at least by Iris, with whom he’s close, as unprocessed grief and lingering depression. She abjures him to snap the fuck out of it. No, she doesn’t do that. She advises him to travel out of Seattle, I’m presuming, and to go stay at her dad’s cabin on some island in order to get his shit together. Jack, being a plot-convenient sort of chap, clearly with no job, takes her up on her suggestion.
When he gets there, riding on his red deadly treadly, he discovers that someone has beaten him to it. Iris’s sister Hannah (Rosemarie Dewitt) is staying there, already drinking her way through a bottle of tequila, which naturally makes them drinking buddies.
We don’t really know these characters yet. The characters don’t know each other yet either, which is a nice way for the story to develop.
Hannah, a lesbian, is nursing a bitter heart over a recent break-up with her long-term partner. Jack is… a strange alcoholic, who correctly feels that flattering Hannah based solely on her appearance is what she wants to hear right now, but foolishly thinks taking that appreciation to another level is a path to glory.
Sure, you could blame alcohol for poor decision making at this point, like we all do. The situation, such as it is, is a perplexing one, one perhaps not out of place in an early Kevin Smith film from the 90s, but that’s where I decided to cut the flick some slack with its melodramatic set-up. There are good reasons for that forgiveness, which are justified by what follows.
When Iris turns up to the cabin, expecting to surprise Jack, all three start acting weird around each other, especially since, apart from the “secret” that Hannah and Jack share, there are other undercurrents of feeling between Jack and Iris, and the complicated relationship the two sisters have with each other. All of this combines in what, on the most part, is a very enjoyable film, topped off with a contrivance that would have been unforgivable in any other film.
The performances are, on the most part, really strong and really grounded. Jack routinely had moments that took me out of the flick and reminded me I was watching someone perform, sometimes a bit shittily. I can forgive that because the film is largely improvised, and has a loose but believable feel to it. It really felt like it was thrown together and made over a few days by a group of actors (and a director) who knew what they were trying to do and knew how to get it done. The mostly easygoing way they interact, and most of the stuff they say to each other, has a warm, human feeling to it, which really made it more engaging than it deserved to be.
Emily Blunt is pretty good in everything she does, but even she has some wonky moments in this, where she tries to freeze this facial expression on her face for her reaction shots (which I’ve seen in a few films and can’t stand) where she’s trying to cry without letting her eyes get puffy. It looks like Actoring Class 101 stuff, and she needs to do something different. Rosemarie Dewitt, as the sister, has a somewhat harder character to pull off, with a certain brittleness to it, and I think she does an exemplary job, probably the best I’ve seen her do thus far.
Her character’s actions at the beginning of the film appear, shall we say, completely unbelievable at first blush, but a revelation later on, contrived as it is, at least makes her earlier “choice” somewhat more comprehensible. It matters that she and Iris realise (not that they need help from Jack, who nonetheless has to spell it out explicitly) that the most important relationship for them to safeguard is the one between the sisters, and not some depressed no-income nobody given to bizarre, loud pronouncements.
I really appreciated the relationship they craft onscreen between the sisters. Since they share only a father, and don’t have a lifetime of memories of growing up together, since they grew up on opposite sides of the world (hell, at leas that explains why Iris has a British accent and Hannah doesn’t), their relationship is more fragile, requires more work, perhaps requires more forgiveness to help it survive. I very much liked the ways they got all these issues across, and the subtle ways they did it beyond dialogue.
The sweetest scene, the scene that brought tears to my eyes is the one where the least was said, and just involved a character coming to the bed of another character, tentatively, liking a child awakened by a bad dream, hoping to hop in with someone in order to feel safe again. Beautifully done, beautifully felt moment.
Sure it’s messy, and it’s a bit shambolic, but so it should be, since a clean, crisp narrative and cutting witty remarks over cocktails would have completely robbed this flick of the genial warmth it possesses. It’s not like it’s a particularly deep flick, or one I’ll pop in the Blu-Ray player every few weeks or so for an emotional pick-me-up. All the same I did enjoy it, and enjoy it plenty, and it more than made up for my teeth-grinding disappointment with Duplass’s last flick. This one made me glad that there is a bunch of Americans putting these low-key, low-stakes flicks together, because they’re the perfect antidote to the soullessness of the CGI extravaganza times in which we live. No one got murdered, no robots killed a whole bunch of people bloodlessly, and there was no karaoke. That makes it practically an Academy Award winner in my book.
Oh, and that ending made me groan out loud, but that’s not a bad thing at all, since it was probably the perfect way to end the flick. That’s not something you can say about most endings. My beloved partner, who also enjoyed the flick, thought that the ending was just right, because whatever could have happened directly after it would have been another film in and of itself.
Next Summer, the blockbuster 3D film of the year, Your Sister’s Sister’s Sister: The Triplets! Coming never to a cinema nowhere near you.
7 levels upon which Iris, come on, you can do so way better than Jack out of 10
“What ever you think is helping you, I have a responsibility as your friend to tell you that it's not.” – *sigh* I wish more friends would be this honest – Your Sister’s Sister