Fey-Poehler chemistry wasted in weak comedy
The weirdly dispiriting “Sisters” has enough troubles of its own without being pitted against the Force. As of Dec. 16, the comment last posted on the “Sisters” message board at imdb.com carried the headline “Star Wars comes out on Friday yayyy,” and the one below it predicted that “The Force Awakens” will “turn this thing into a giant flop.” Don’t space trolls have anything better to do?
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler may prove these guys wrong (and they’re guys, all right). Both women are amazing, multidirectional comic talents, showcased indelibly by “Saturday Night Live,” recently coming off the classy observational grooves of “30 Rock” and “Parks and Recreation,” respectively. Their co-hosting of the 2015 Golden Globes was funnier than every single comedy nominated. They can write, produce, perform and develop talent; “Sisters” was written by their “SNL” alum Paula Pell.
Seven years ago Fey and Poehler teamed for the feature film “Baby Mama,” which found an audience even though it was formulaic and not much. Alas, “Sisters” is far worse, and less. While offering two giant talents a chance to cut loose with broader, rougher material than usual, at least for them, the jokes are cheap, the technique’s pushy and you end up waiting patiently for the end-credit bloopers.
In Atlanta, recently divorced nurse Maura (Poehler) is the younger sibling of unemployed beautician Kate (Fey), who has a teenage daughter (Madison Davenport) mysteriously hard to track down lately. Kate decides MPAA rating: R (for crude sexual content and language, and for drug use)
Running time: 1:58
Opens: Thursday evening to move with her daughter back to the family home in Orlando, Fla., where mom (Dianne Wiest) and dad (James Brolin) live. But the folks have sold the place without consulting their daughters, and “Sisters” takes it from there, with the initially sulky, then vengeful siblings — uptight Maura and hard-partying Kate — throwing a massively destructive house party, bringing back memories and high school faces from the old days.
Maya Rudolph, thank God, plays the chief foil, but with everyone going over the top, the movie exhausts its performers as well as the audience. Ike Barinholtz plays Poehler’s handyman love interest, and he and Poehler keep it real, or real-esque, at least until the next bout of clumsily staged slapstick. (High/low point: a musicbox-up-the-bum bit that evinces winces, not laughs.) Maybe I wasn’t in the mood. But it’s hard to watch so many shrewd comic talents struggle against the tide, in harsh close-up, which so rarely works in low comedy. Director Jason Moore (“Pitch Perfect”) clobbers each scene with frantic reaction shots ( what did I just see?), and when the pathos come, they come in truckloads enough to fill a Florida sinkhole.
The movie recalls junkers such as “Due Date” and “Identity Thief,” studio comedies working on pure fumes and audience goodwill toward the marquee talent. It’s not fair to turn one misfire into a gender studies argument, especially in a year that gave us the guycentric failures “Get Hard” and “The Ridiculous 6.” But compared with so many varied and skillful female-driven hits such as “Bridesmaids” or this summer’s “Trainwreck” and “Spy,” “Sisters” isn’t worth talking about. Michael Phillips is a Tribune Newspapers critic.
Former “Saturday Night Live” stars Amy Poehler, left, and Tina Fey in “Sisters,” written by “SNL” alum Paula Pell.