Fey and Poehler cut loose in 'Sisters'

Tuesday, December 22, 2015 - 2:05pm

NOSELL

Universal

 

“Superbad” is all grown up in “Sisters,” a party movie starring comedy’s female dynamic duo: Tina Fey (“Date Night”) and Amy Poehler (“Inside Out”). Fey and Poehler play, as the title would suggest, sisters who return to their childhood home one last time before their parents sell it. Of course, they decide to throw a party to celebrate the symbolic end of their childhood. And, as is party movie standard, it all ends in mass, drunken destruction including phallic wall art and a sinkhole that eats half of the backyard.

In a role reversal of “Baby Mama,” Poehler plays Maura, an uptight nurse with chipper, neurotic tendencies. Fey unconvincingly plays her foil as a drunk slacker who can’t seem to “get it together.” But, the movie isn’t really about Maura and Kate, it’s about Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Both characters, as well as the supporting cast, seem quite aware of the actors who play them. The movie is funny because Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are funny, not because Maura and Kate are funny.

The party movie has emerged as a common, if not overused, formulaic subgenre of comedy. Most of the humor comes from the misadventures of the movies’ drunkest, highest, and stupidest characters and the fact that none of them would be friends if they were sober. “Sisters” follows the party movie formula perfectly, but while it loses points on originality, it gains them on scientifically proven funniness.

The party is exactly as one might hope a “Saturday Night Live” reunion party would be. With a cast of full of late night alums, the jokes are absurd and plentiful. At times the movie feels like a 2-hour sketch, in which “SNL” ’s usual formula of non-stop one-liners begins to feel tiresome. “Sisters” never stops to take a breath, cutting frantically between Poehler’s sexual misadventures, Fey’s booze-fueled rage and a coked-out Bobby Moynihan (“Saturday Night Live”) doing “Scarface” impersonations. That’s why the sudden jump to poignancy in the last 15 minutes feels so unnecessary—it’s too abrupt a stop in the flow of humor to feel like a proper ending. We should have just left Kate and Maura hugging next to a sinkhole and gone home.

The problem with “Sisters” isn’t that it’s not funny; it’s that it’s not clever. Headed by two of the smartest, quickest women in Hollywood with a script written by a longtime SNL writer, it is easy to be disappointed by the film’s reliance on pure raunchiness alone to carry its humor. Every spare second is filled with swearing and sex jokes — many of which seem surprisingly retrograde for a movie about women written by a woman. And nothing screams retrograde like a girl fight, so it’s always disappointing when a movie that passes the Bechdel test decides to pit its leading ladies against each other in a mud brawl.

What saves “Sisters” is its longer, more developed gags. A scene in which Maura’s love interest, played by “The Mindy Project” ’s Ike Barinholtz, gets a music box stuck up his butt and an ongoing joke where Tina Fey tries to woo a drug dealer played by John Cena (“Trainwreck”) ground the movie in some well-developed humor. It’s a nice break from constant one-liners and provides the opportunity for Fey and Poehler to flex their comedic muscles without being out-shouted by the supporting cast.    

“Sisters” is a 2-hour assault of irreverence. It’s not the best work from comedy’s girl power dynamic duo, but it’s funny and finds moments of cleverness. It’s the perfect movie to see if you need a mindless break from talking to relatives this holiday.