The Double Feature: Our Idiot Brother and Your Sister’s Sister
Having siblings can be one of life’s truest gifts. Here are the people you grow up with, who speak the common language of your family and will team up with you against your parents if need be. They are biologically obligated to have your back. Unfortunately, biological obligation becomes more and more complicated the older siblings become, and the idealized relationships we imagine in our heads often end up far more complicated in real life. Independent films are uniquely designed to delve into the messy world of adult sibling relationship because all the story needs to work is excellent writing and good actors– no explosions, talking robots or world saving necessary (although all could make for a fun bonus).
This month’s Double Feature pairs a “big budget indie” Our Idiot Brother (made for a whopping $5 million) and the little indie that could Your Sister’s Sister (made for a mere $125K) to create a double bill that may not make you want to call up your brother or sister for a chat, but will at the very least remind you of how intrinsic they are to your life and give you a good laugh in the process.
Released in 2011, Our Idiot Brother stars many of comedy’s best and brightest including Paul Rudd as Ned, the hapless, but loving brother to Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) and Liz (Emily Mortimor). Also along for the ride are Adam Scott as Miranda’s sci-fi loving neighbor, Rashida Jones as Natalie’s girlfriend, Steve Coogan as Liz’s cheating husband and Kathryn Hahn as Ned’s vindictive ex, Janet. I mention the deep bench of talent because it’s their joint effort and likability that keeps the film afloat. It should be stated up front that the trio of sisters are so quick to blame their dysfunctional lives and wealth of problems on their recently released from prison brother that they would be unbearable in lesser hands.
It’s their inability to deal with their own problems that makes Ned such a positive force in their lives, even as they view him as a negative one. Ned is a gentle soul, naive even, and Rudd plays that innocence deftly. His only crime is being manipulated into selling marijuana to a police offer, but that one action costs him his farm, his (awful) girlfriend and his beloved dog, Willie Nelson. Upon release he becomes a nomad moving from one sister’s home to the next, unintentionally forcing them to see the messes they’ve made or in Liz’s case, breaking down the illusion that she’s happy. He forces Miranda to admit her feelings for her neighbor and be honest in her work, he’s there for Natalie when she discovers she’s pregnant after cheating on her girlfriend and he gives Liz’s son an outlet for his pent up creativity and energy, while also inadvertently discovering her husband’s infidelity.
Each of his sisters are quick to blame him when their lives derail, but they ultimately realize that having their brother in their lives is for the better not the worse. He’s the catalyst that forces them all to act and move forward, a mild-mannered McGuffin propelling the action around him before he can move on with his own life. Like Bruce Banner, minus the anger issues.
Your Sister’s Sister (2012) is a strange film. Either you are going to hate the three people at its center–Jack (Mark Duplass), Iris (Emily Blunt) and Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt)–or they’re going to break your heart. Maybe a little bit of both. It’s Jack’s inability to move past the death of his brother that drives his best friend Iris to send him out to the family cabin where her sister, Hannah is staying unbeknownst to Iris. After an awkward encounter, the duo end up getting very drunk and spending the night together even though Hannah is a lesbian, fresh out of a long-term relationship.
This one act drives the film, as Iris arrives at the cabin to reveal that she’s in love with Jack (and he’s in love with her) even though she was once his dead brother’s girlfriend. Still with me? The twisted web of sibling relationships both the one that is alive and well and the one Jack so desperately misses fill the cabin with an uncomfortable energy. Director Lynn Shelton competently maneuvers the trio through the emotional minefield they’ve created for themselves with little more than quiet shots and a constant string of nervous, sometimes biting chatter. The history between Iris and Mark and Iris and Hannah is palpable. Had the movie done nothing besides examine the places where their lives and hearts intersect it would have been a winner.
But it doesn’t just do that, it throws in a third act curve ball that’s unconscionable, heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. Whether or not you buy the twist depends on how willing you are to give yourself over to the film and its theme of family above all else. Either way, a divisive third act can’t take away from such a lovely, ruminative film.
What binds these two films together are their warts and all approach to sibling relationships. It’s hard to be your best self with people who have known you since the day you were born. Families are strange creatures and Our Idiot Brother and Your Sister’s Sister revel in that kowledge. Ned and Iris are the hearts of their respective features, and it’s their love that guides their siblings–however reluctantly–to a point where they know they can be happy and feel accepted for who they are. They’re not perfect or exempt from the cycle of crazy their families have fallen into, but they are capable of offering forgiveness for even the most extreme of slights.
They’re also both funny films, capable of finding humor in the strangest of places. Grab your siblings for this double feature and then prepare for an evening of awkward laughter and maybe a few (happy) tears.
As always, I hope you’ll give this month’s Double Feature a try, and if you have a genre or a film you think needs to find its cinematic soulmate, let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
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