YOUR SISTER’S SISTER. Starring: Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Mark Duplass. Directed by Lynn Shelton. Rated M (Sex scenes, sexual references and frequent coarse language). 90 min.
This low-budget, American film tells the story of the complex relationships of an emotionally conflicted, grieving young man, Jack (Mark Duplass) with two women, Iris (Emily Blunt) and Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who are sisters. Jack has not recovered from his brother’s death a year earlier, and has embarrassed himself at his brother’s anniversary wake. Iris, who is his brother’s ex-girl friend and best friend to him, offers Jack the opportunity of staying in her family’s isolated cabin outside Seattle in Washington State, USA. Jack doesn’t realise that the cabin is shared by her older half-sister, Hannah, who is recovering from ending a lesbian relationship with a woman she partnered for seven years.
Jack arrives to find Hannah in the cabin. While initially getting on badly, they both get drunk. With their feelings fuelled by alcohol, they start bonding, and decide to sleep together. They agree not to tell Iris about what has happened, but after Iris arrives unexpectedly the next morning, Hannah confesses to her what took place.
All three have secrets. Hannah and Jack don’t want to tell Iris about their tryst, and Iris doesn’t want to share with Jack that she has stronger feelings toward him than just friendship. Jack wants emotional solitude and Hannah wants company, but events have gotten completely out of hand, setting the stage for a complex unfolding of the feelings all three have toward each other. To add to the complexity, Hannah wants a child, and she takes deliberate steps to ensure that might happen - Iris loves Jack, but she has partnered his brother, not him; Hannah has slept with Jack and wants to have her child, not his.
Jack is angry, and he confronts both sisters when he finds out Hannah might become pregnant from their time together. The final scenes show Hannah looking at the outcome of a pregnancy test in the company of both Jack and Iris. The screen goes dark and the credits roll, before we can learn the result.
The film plays morally fast and loose with sexual relationships, and explores intensely the complicated interface between relational boundaries and sexual mores. Iris and Jack are friends, but Jack has betrayed his relationship with Iris by sleeping with her sister. Both Hannah and Jack share a sense of loss and self-pity, but Hannah has manipulated Jack to try to conceive a child. The three conveniently decide to become would-be parents, but they are flawed people with the capacity to hurt each other, as well as to love. Their relationships criss-cross, as the complexity of their feelings toward each other accumulates.
The acting of each of the three main players is excellent, and each handles the subtleties of very demanding roles. Duplass is appealingly lost to himself as Jack, Blunt is nervously warm and understanding as Iris, and DeWitt is caringly abrasive as Hannah. This is a talkie movie, and not an action one, and there is a spontaneous, improvised style to the movie that works. Conversations among the characters appear entirely natural, suggesting that the Director of the movie, Lynn Shelton, has let the three of them have a hand in developing their characters, almost as the movie goes along. In crossing the boundaries of conventional sexual attraction, it delves intimately into the relationship between the two sisters, Jack and the two sisters, and Jack and his brother. It is a compliment to Lynn Shelton, the film’s female Director, that few men would have been able to direct a movie quite like it.
This movie is an emotionally ambitious comedy about a complex love triangle that is very absorbing. The performances are great, but the dynamics of how it all works out are much less clear. As the trio mutually decide to take responsibility for what has happened, the outcome looms thoughtfully, and ambiguously, as very problematic.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out September 6th 2012.