Movie Review: “Sisters”

Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz, Maya Rudolph, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, Bobby Moynihan, John Cena
Jason Moore

For two actresses with such undeniable chemistry, it’s downright criminal that it’s been seven years since “Saturday Night Live” alumni Tina Fey and Amy Poehler last made a film. That film, 2008’s “Baby Mama,” was cute, but it was also terribly safe. Their new film “Sisters,” meanwhile, is quite possibly the most profane female-driven movie ever made, an apology of sorts for “Baby Mama.” The story also allows Poehler and Fey the ability to play themselves as well as each other, like a raunch-com version of “Face/Off.” As ridiculous as that sounds, it works incredibly well.

Kate Ellis (Fey) is in a bad way. Living on a near-stranger’s couch, her own daughter Haley (Madison Davenport) doesn’t even want to spend time with her. Kate’s saintly sister Maura (Poehler) is divorced, and basically hiding from the world. Kate and Maura’s parents (James Brolin and Dianne Weist) tell Maura that they’re selling the Orlando home they grew up in, and Kate and Maura decide to throw one last party, only Maura guilts wild child Kate to be the designated sober house mommy after Maura meets cute with new neighbor James (Ike Barinholtz). When they get to the house, they discover that it’s already been sold to an insufferable young couple (though they haven’t moved in), but that only strengthens their resolve to throw the party. The party begins as a wake (literally) but turns into a rager, and as it continues into the night, new information comes to light that causes Kate and Maura to rethink both the party and each other.

It was very smart to have Fey and Poehler go against type here. Think of Fey in “Mean Girls” as the straight-laced Precalculus teacher, and then think of Poehler as the “cool mom,” who lets her pre-tween daughter watch “Girls Gone Wild.” The script here is not exactly flipped, but it is mixed up. Maura is impossibly sensible, and until now has never let loose once in her life. Kate is a hothead who always has a reason for why she’s never to blame. In a nutshell, both women made it impossible for anyone to typecast them from here on.

The joke writing here doesn’t have many knockout punches. Instead, it has something better: the swift jab to the nose, immediately followed by four punches to the gut. The script, by Paula Pell (she had a hand in writing over 300 “SNL” episodes), can get broad at times (witness the “American Pie”-style sex scene in the third act, and one lesbian joke too far), but is mostly about the often-caustic one-liner, and the rejoinder to the one-liner. Indeed, the jokes come so quickly that the audience will miss most of the gut punch jokes because of the laughter from the face punch. It’s the kind of writing that demands multiple viewings. No, the studio did not ask us to write that.

An “SNL” cast member drinking game will be born from this movie. (And it will kill you, so don’t take the bait.) This is usually a good thing – sometimes even when Adam Sandler’s crew is involved –and it is a mostly good thing here, with the exceptions of Bobby Moynihan and the normally reliable Maya Rudolph. Moynihan is stuck telling bad joke after bad joke, so most of his issues are with Pell’s script, but Rudolph acts as if some lesser “SNL” alum – say, Melanie Hutsell – is wearing Rudolph’s skin as a suit. It’s painful to watch. Granted, her character is supposed to be awkward, but Rudolph moves like a drunken giraffe.

Interestingly, all of the “SNL” supporting players are taken to school by none other than John Cena, whose drug-dealing character Pazuzu delivers the best deadpan performance in a comedy this year.

“Sisters” is a funny movie and a brilliant piece of counter-programming. As husbands take their children to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” a huge percentage of the female population gets a Girls’ Night Out, and most of them won’t even need a sitter. This movie will do gangbusters, and the following weekend, once the “Star Wars” fans have gotten their fix, it might do even better. As naughty nostalgia goes, this is as good as it gets.