You can trust Amy and Tina.
You won’t think so in the first 15 minutes of “Sisters.” You’ll be sitting there glum and laughless and thinking that you have stumbled into the first modern joint effort by Amy Poehler and Tina Fey that isn’t so hot – the first one, in fact, that may be an outright holiday turkey.
As I said, though, you can trust Amy and Tina these days. All those years of doing improv comedy together – and this week’s “Saturday Night Live” and every other joint co-hosting gig they can score – mean that when you put them together, they’ve got it going on.
Once you get to the party itself in “Sisters,” which is the big fat midsection of the film and indeed the whole point of the bloody thing, it clicks into gear and (almost) everyone’s favorite comedy sisters turn into the hostesses of a pretty funny version of one of those slob comedy parties that American movies have made mythological as the pinnacles of adolescence and post-adolescence since “Animal House.”
Since then, the comic cinematic semi-orgy has been used in movies as proof that its characters sure know how to have a good time. Most of us wouldn’t trade our own experiences at semi-orgies, such as they have been, for the world but then we wouldn’t necessarily elevate them into golden moments guaranteeing permanently arrested adolescence either.
But that’s what Amy and Tina are selling in “Sisters.” They play no-longer-young women who have hit their early 40s and discovered their lives aren’t so great.
Tina plays Katie, the older sister of Maura and former wild child of her family whose adolescent diary is full of drawings of private male anatomy as she has abundantly experienced it. She is an educated consumer of the male sex which she has discovered is not the same as being a comfortable partner with the opposite sex. She has a teenage daughter and no man in her life. She’s a beautician by trade but a distractible one with a smart mouth and a very touchy temper (“I’m not a hothead,” she protests. “I’m brassy.”)
Poehler plays her sister Maura, a nurse by profession and lifelong do-gooder since adolescence. She’s so inclined to healing others’ problems that she’ll buy groceries for a man she assumes to be homeless only to discover that he’s actually a construction worker waiting to be picked up by his work buddies on a street corner. She’s divorced and looking.
When the Ellis sisters find out that their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) have decided to sell the house the girls grew up in, they decide to have one final “Ellis Island” blowout in the joint as a crazed, desperate, drooling antidote to the maturity they’re finding unrewarding in the extreme.
Not only do I know people who don’t much like Amy and Tina, but I know people for whom adolescence was not the apogee of human experience.
But that’s the Ellis sisters’ game plan. They invite all of their Orlando, Fla., school chums – except Katie’s nemesis Brenda (Maya Rudolph) who is now a real estate salesperson whose picture is plastered over bus stop benches.
It’s their aim to reintroduce the gang of settled, early onset adult friends to their nutso hedonist younger selves and therefore let them experience real joy again.
But as their party begins, they discover that adult parties with the old gang can indeed be dreary – all that talk of illness and death and kids and life struggles. Not to mention, all those old high-school jerks who have possibly turned into semi-calamities in adulthood. (Bobby Moynihan plays the unfunny joker who has doubled down on obnoxiousness as a “grown-up.”)
Katie is instantly ready to do battle with her old nemesis Brenda. “Where do you buy stool softener?” she sweetly inquires on spotting her at her party uninvited.
As I said, trust Amy and Tina. The fun has just begun.
The first new blood to infiltrate the bores is a squadron of bare-midriff Korean beauties from the nearby nail salon. Then come a bunch of flannel-shirted lesbians who bring the music. No more drippy nostalgic soft rock; from now on everything is throbbing, electro-dance, pseudo-sex music.
And then wrestler John Cena arrives as a musclebound drug dealer. Fey, who has agreed to play “party mom” to liberate her cloistered younger sister, finds her instincts as a consumer of the male sex aroused.
He asks what her “safe word” is. She asks him back. “Keep going,” he says. That’s his “safe word.” Does he have kids, she asks. “I’m sure I do,” he replies.
If you saw “Trainwreck” you know Cena is indeed funny.
The party escalates into a joyful calamity in the bad taste semi-orgy movie tradition. Some of it is awfully funny. There is ho-hum mud-wrestling, but there is a very raunchy joke about an unfortunate little girl’s dancing ballerina wind-up toy that is both obvious and hilariously elaborated.
What’s altogether wonderful about our friends Amy and Tina as an act is a genuine affection they evince in every scene. For all we know, they may hate each other. On any screen at all, they might well be loving sisters.
Which, of course, is where we all came in. And why we’re watching the movie. The movie is, itself, a kind of party – tedious until it warms up. And then you’re happy to be a guest.
Starring: Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, James Brolin, Diane Wiest, John Cena
Director: Jason Moore
Running time: 118 minutes
Rating: R for language, wall-to-wall raunch and drugs
The Lowdown: Two grown sisters return home for one last crazy adolescent-style blowout in their childhood home before it’s sold.