September 11, 2013

YOUR SISTER'S SISTER And I Both Start Strong Before Tapping Out Too Early

 "I really think your face is going to annoy me right now."
The second day of Noteworthy Reunion started with a clutch Dunkies run before a few folks had to exit back to the real world.  The rest of us had a low key afternoon, largely fueled by Bud Light Strawberitas and avacado egg rolls.  We listened to some of the group's various recordings over the years, which may sound self-indulgent but was actually anything but.  The young'uns got to hear the earliest incarnations of the group while we old folks were blown away by Noteworthy's most recent album.  The host's parents stopped by with some friends in the early afternoon so we sang a few tunes on the front porch, including "A Little Help From My Friends" by The Beatles and Billy Joel's "Lullabye," two songs that have been passed down among multiple generations of the group.

Afterwards, some people retired for a midday nap around this point while others gathered in the living room for a movie break.  I anticipated such an occurrence and, during our early morning jaunt into town, I scoured the discount DVD rack at Walgreens in search of something fun.  I chose Orphan, a horror movie I've never seen even though the totally bonkers ending has already been spoiled for me.  Tragically I was unable to get the house DVD player working and had to abandon that plan.  It's a shame, as I really think that would have been a great crowd for Orphan's particular brand of crazy.  What's worse, I almost brought the cables that would've let me plug my laptop into the TV, but left them at home at the last minute.  I'm still pretty sad about it.

By the time night rolled around I started to wish that I too had crashed out that afternoon.  I was the oldest member of the group present at Reunion this year and lately I've been starting to really feel my age in the lamest of possible ways.  Around 11:30 that night, as the party was starting to really kick into gear again, I was suffering from some pretty awful heartburn.  I guess that's what happens when you straight booze and smoke for two days without drinking any water or eating anything that even vaguely resembles healthy food.  This just in: getting old sucks.  I feel like next year I'm gonna have to spend the week before Reunion getting extra sleep and hydrating so that I can make it all the way through and keep up with the babies.  I was forced to take myself out of the action for a bit, so I pulled out my laptop in search of an alternative movie option for the day and settled on Your Sister's Sister, really for no other reason than, like Reunion, it was largely set in a house in the woods.

Lynn Shelton is a filmmaker who I find incredibly interesting.  I saw her most recent film Touchy Feely at the Independent Film Festival Boston but was so underwhelmed that I ended up abandoning my write up in favor of Bobcat Goldthwait's great Willow Creek.  In that film, Shelton was able to elicit strong performances out of her actors, especially Rosemarie DeWitt, but the story never coalesced for me in any meaningful way, burning through its quirky premise and not really amounting to much of anything else.  I suppose that's the danger of working in a largely improvisational style - it's easy for the plot to get away from you.  Most people hear "improv" and they think comedy (Thanks Drew Carrey!) and while there's plenty of laughs in both Touchy Feely and Your Sister's Sister, it's the drama that really drives these films.  I've done some improvised drama back in my theater days and I totally love it.  Dramatic improv has the ability to be incredibly powerful in the hands of the right performers and I found that style to be compelling enough in Touchy Feely to give Shelton another look.

Here's how the trailer sold Your Sister's Sister to me: Mark Duplass plays Jack, a guy who's still in a funk a year after the death of his brother.  His best friend/his dead brother's ex-girlfriend Iris (Emily Blunt) convinces him to go spend some time alone at her father's cabin in order to clear his head, but when he arrives late at night he finds Iris's sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) already there drinking away the relationship she just walked out on.  One thing leads to another and, a bottle of tequila later, she and Jack end up sleeping together.  But when Iris arrives the next morning, everything becomes more complicated, especially when she admits to Hannah that she might actually have feelings for Jack.  I love small character/relationship pieces with simple, believable setups like that.  (I've certainly been in similar situations in the past, where I had feelings for someone but couldn't actually be with them for one reason or another so I ended up hooking up with their friend instead as some kind of weird emotional proxy.  What can I say, infatuation is a messy business.)  I'm even willing to live with a certain degree of the classic rom-com "everybody's lying to each other and running around under false pretenses" schtick so long as the characters are interesting and there's an honest payoff at the end.

Here's what the trailer left out though: Hannah is a lesbian.  Now, I'll still believe that after a lot of tequila, honest conversation, heartbreak and a little flirting, that she and Jack would end up having sex.  She even says something to the effect of, "It's been a while since I climbed on that particular horse," which clearly implies that she's at least slept with guys before.  It's a little janky, but DeWitt and Duplass really sell that moment on screen so I'll allow it.  It's the film's later big reveal that I have a real problem with; it turns out that Hannah really wants a kid, which immediately makes Jack suspicious of their brief fling.  She points out that they used a condom and Jack dismisses the whole thing, but then he remembers that the rubber was hers and not his, so he digs it out of the trash can and fills it up with water, revealing that the thing has a dozen holes poked in it.

That's the point where the film really kind of lost me.  Tonally, it's such a weird left turn from everything that's come before it that suddenly the entire story seemed downright silly.  And there's still a lot of emotional scene work to follow, as Iris and Jack are forced to figure out their feelings for one another in the face of their complicated history while Iris is simultaneously pissed at Hannah for deceiving her and Jack is still an immature mess of a person.  There's so much strong emotional material to worth with just in those three very real relationships that the added pregnancy complication just completely gilds the lily.  It's too over the top and frankly feels like a plot device that was borrowed from a lesser film.  The three stars all do strong work, which is the only thing that keeps the film moving at that point on.  (Also, props to comedian Mike Birbiglia, who's great in the film's opening scene.)  Blunt, Duplass and DeWitt are all extremely capable improvisers and their natural dialogue builds a sort of breezy chemistry between them.  DeWitt in particular seems to fit very well with Shelton's style and I look forward to the day when they make a film together that can actually sustain itself the whole way through.

I hung out with the Noteworthy crew for a while longer before finally succumbing to the will of my aging body and crashing out on the upstairs couch once again.  The next morning we made one more Dunkies run before we cleaned up the house and bid each other adieu.  Warren and I were the last to leave, and after we dropped our friend Erin off at the Hartford airport, we continued the trek back to Boston.  Reunion has always been my favorite event of the year and I don't expect that to change anytime soon.  But it's been interesting to watch the tone of the event and the makeup of the participants shift over time.  This year, due mostly to scheduling, there were no current members of the group in attendance.  While it's something we've talked about doing in the past, it's never actually happened before.  The same goes for inviting spouses, significant others and children.  Right now we all look at Reunion as a weekend away from the world to cut loose and party with our favorite people, but as the years march on it's becoming more about reconnecting with the folks you haven't seen in ages.  At some point I expect that "alumni only" will become the standard for future Reunions.

As the age gap widens between the youngest and oldest Noteworthians, (it's currently sitting somewhere around 19-31 years old) it can certainly make for a slightly bizarre environment when we all get together.  We really do consider ourselves to be one big family, but just like any family there are multiple generations at play, and it's understandable to be drawn towards our contemporaries as opposed to some young upstarts who can give me a dissertation on twerking but don't understand my Saved By The Bell references.  (Obviously that street goes both ways.)  As someone who's still able to attend shows on a regular basis I'm probably the oldest member of the group who's closest to the youngest members, but when the time comes for me to leave Boston again I expect that will alter my attitudes about Reunion and my relationship with Noteworthy as a whole, especially if I end up living somewhere far away from everyone else.  Will I ever get "too old for Reunion?"  I certainly hope not.

I'm not an old man yet.  But I'm getting there.

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Title: Your Sister's Sister
Director: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mark Duplass, Mike Birbiglia,
Year Of Release: 2011
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD (laptop)