Sisters has some nice things going for it. Its stars, SNL alumni Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, are a wonderful duo with great chemistry and spot-on comedic timing. Its plot can evoke strong nostalgia, with glimpses of posters featuring Michael J. Fox or E.T. reminding viewers of a "simpler" time.
But at the end of the day, nostalgia is overshadowed by the feeling that the movie is overly familiar.
Put simply, Sisters is a "bro comedy" starring women. Maura and Kate Ellis (Poehler and Fey, respectively) are close siblings who have each kept a foot stuck in the past. Kate is a sailor-mouthed party girl who can't keep a job, much less the respect of her teenage daughter. Maura is a much more responsible nurse, but a failed marriage has her social life -- and emotional well-being -- floundering. When they learn that their parents are selling their childhood home in Florida, the sisters quickly decide to use the house for one more "Ellis Island" party, just like the good old days.
"One last party," "One last night out," "One last fling." This concept is far from new, and many of the story beats we experience along the way are similarly worn ground: At one point, one of the main characters tries to help the other win the attention of a love interest; another time, drugs are mistakenly taken by a side character and high jinks ensue.
Even when I was laughing, even when well-written lines were well-delivered, it was hard to shake the feeling that I'd seen it all before. The kids' parents are away and everything is going to go wrong, regardless of the fact that the "kids" in this case are in their 40s.
As we were walking out of the theater, my wife (who enjoyed the film more than me) said that it was refreshing to see all those bro-movie tropes acted out by women instead of men, and she's not wrong. Subverting the typical gender roles you tend to find in R-rated comedies certainly elevates Sisters above what it otherwise would have been. It takes what could have been a fairly gross catcalling scene, for example, and makes it much more entertaining: When characters pull up next to a stranger doing yard work and shout something like, "I bet trimming those bushes makes you want to whack your weeds!" is much more funny when it comes out of the mouth of a socially awkward Poehler.
Sisters works best when it's not trying to be over the top. There are plenty of big drunken antics, often resulting in the destruction of property and/or a lot of bodily pain, but the smaller moments are much more worthwhile. Fey's exchanges with an old school rival (Maya Rudolph) are packed with witty comebacks that sometimes go so fast you might miss them, but those little moments manage to be both funnier and more relatable than watching Poehler (predictably) fall through a ceiling. Similarly, John Cena's stoic drug dealer and the antics of Bobby Moynihan's class clown (many of which are in the background) elicit more laughs than the typical slapstick humor.
But make no mistake: Fey and Poehler are the stars, and they pull their weight. It's just a shame their script didn't have more heft.
Directed by Jason Moore. Rated R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, and for drug use). 118 mins. In wide release.