'Sisters' Loses Charms of Fey and Poehler in Juvenile Humor

Directed by: Jason Moore; Runtime: 118 minutes
Grade: C-

Esteemed Saturday Night Live writer Paula Pell turns her attention to a feature-length sketch with Sisters, centered on a pair of siblings -- one who's professionally successful but socially uncomfortable; the other who's a social butterfly but struggles to hold down a job and raise her teenage daughter -- who decide to throw a massive party in their childhood home before it gets sold to another family. With vets Amy Poehler and Tina Fey filling the respective personalities of the sisters and Pitch Perfectdirector Jason Moore bringing his energetic flair to the scenario, the hope is that this creative foursome will deliver a no-holds-barred, vivacious comedy alongside the natural rapport between the two actresses. Sisters doesn manage to accomplish what it sets out to do by inviting both raunchy shenanigans and sentiment to the festivities, yet those two sides rarely authentically mingle with one another, becoming problematic as it tries much too hard to get its laughs and overstays its welcome within a two-hour runtime.

Buttoned-up nurse Maura Ellis (Amy Poehler) learns from her parents (James Brolin; Dianne Wiest) that they're planning on selling their childhood home, a picturesque and spacious house in Orlando's suburbs, and that she'll need to inform her chaotic sister, Kate (Tina Fey), of the situation. Kate, an out-of-work stylist whose daughter, Haley, has been avoiding her over the course of the summer, accepts an invitation to return home with another agenda in mind: to possibly shack up at that childhood haven until things get settled in her life. After learning the truth of why she's there, to pack up her old bedroom as the last step of getting the house ready to be sold, Kate shifts gears and suggests to Maura that they should throw a huge final party. Doubling as a class reunion and a not-so-subtle way of giving the house some wear and tear before the sale of the property, their extravaganza should hopefully work out some of the pent-up issues going on with both siblings, including Maura's need for romance after her divorce.

Former "Weekend Update" and Golden Globe hosts Fey and Poehler obviously know how to play off each other's personality quirks, which delivers on a few laughs here and there throughout Sisters, purely on their dedicated comedic energy. Unfortunately, that rapport reads less like a sisterly bond and more like high-school chums, with the sibling bond getting lost somewhere between the script from Paula Pell and outlandish stretches featuring the pair's goofy antics over skimpy clothing, booze, and flirting with a home remodeler, James (Ike Barinholtz), down the street from their parent's place. Fey and Poehler dial up the vulgar language and physical comedy in some respectably daring ways, yet the expletive-ridden dialogue and juvenile body gestures comes across as trying too hard for the sake of pushing that envelope, drawing attention to their bravery instead of whether the comedy actually works. Some of it does, but much of the intentional immaturity falls flat and doesn't really jibe with the family-based undercurrent.

Strangely enough, part of the problem lies in the characters embodied by the dynamic duo in Sisters. Maura isn't far-removed from Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation, whose straight-laced mannerisms lead to awkwardness whenever she's forced to act outside her comfort zone. The humor plays out about the same way as she clumsily flirts with James and reads passages from her "boring" childhood diary, replacing Knope's dedication to public service with the vague and restrictive dedication to caring for others that previously brought joy to Maura's life. Fey, on the other hand, takes on the attributes of a radically different character than the professional, uptight roles she's previously undertaken, letting her freak-flag fly with Kate's brash sense of humor and destructive recklessness. Thing is, outside of her conversations with her daughter, the character comes across as if she's trying to impersonate that kind of aged impetuous persona, forcing vulgarities through her stiff mannerisms.

Despite a bounty of cheeky cameos, from Maya Rudolph as a bitter classmate to another amusing appearance from John Cena as a jacked, formidable drug dealer, the party itself in Sisters becomes a klutzy affair with drawn-out gags and stilted chemistry all-around. At first, there's amusement to be found in how a group of forty-somethings transform a dull party full of middle-age mortality concerns into a colorful, under-the-influence extravaganza, but the subsequent chaos that ensues -- drug overdosing, objects getting lost in people's anal canals, even natural disasters -- goes way over-the-top and loses that clever dose of humor. Director Moore brings a vivid, musical tempo to the antics and both Poehler and Fey give it their all, but, intentional or not, the resulting wave of adults doing zany adolescent things makes for a tiresome and overly self-satisfied event, as if a skit on SNL had been going on much longer than it should have.

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