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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > The Sisters

MOVIE REVIEWS

THE SISTERS (2006)

Starring Elizabeth Banks, Maria Bello, Erika Christensen, Steven Culp, Tony Goldwyn, Nary Stuart Masterson, Eric McCormack, Alessandro Nivola, Chris O'Donnell and Rip Torn.

Screenplay by Richard Alfieri.

Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman.

Distributed by Persistent Entertainment.  113 minutes.  Rated R.

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The Sisters

Even if you didn't know that The Sisters was based on a play you would pick up on it easily enough just by watching for moments. 

The film basically takes place almost completely in one setting, the extraordinarily ornate faculty lounge of a New York college, with a few short side trips to a hospital, a chapel, a bodega and the part of campus directly in front of the lounge.

The dialogue is more than occasionally too stagy.  In fact it is often extremely beautiful and well-thought out and at the same time you don't believe for a second that someone would really say that.

The narrative touches – with anger and passion, yet strangely rather politely – on controversial subjects like lesbianism, adultery, drug abuse, incest and rampant sarcasm.  However these are mostly only discussed, with little of the actual dirt ever being shown in the light of day. 

Actually, The Sisters has its theatricality twice removed.  The screenplay is based upon a play which itself is based on another play; the original source material being Anton Chekov's classic parable The Three Sisters.  The new version updates the story, moving the characters from the ghettos of early 20th Century Russia to the secluded, privileged ivy halls of academia in modern New York.  Frankly, the new setting really does the story little favors and – with the exception of a couple of funky, short visits to the real world of Manhattan – this insulated world could be anywhere.

The plot revolves around four siblings, three girls and a boy who have grown together.  Their father was a respected dean of the college who had moved the family up to New York from their now-romanticized childhood home in Charleston. 

Their father has been dead for nearly twenty years and yet his shadow still engulfs his offspring.  The oldest is Olga (Mary Stuart Masterson).  She is the "smart" one, who has taken over her father's position on the staff and is now a closeted lesbian control freak who refuses to deal with her emotions.  Marcia, the middle, "beautiful" sister (Maria Bello) has the exact opposite reaction in her life.  She is stuck in a loveless marriage and spews her anger and venom towards everyone who gets in her line of sight. 

The cuckolded brother, Andrew (Alessandro Nivola), has replaced being bullied by his sisters with being bullied by his boorish new fiancée (Elizabeth Banks).  The baby, Irene, (Erica Christensen) is the sweet, innocent, caring one.  She is just now graduating from the school, however she harbors dark secrets of her own.

Orbiting their world are Marcia's disgusted husband (Steven Culp) and two young professors (Chris O'Donnell and Eric McCormack).  The profs both try to hide their love for Irene, but show it in very different ways; O'Donnell with nearly stalkerish, passive-aggressive worship and McCormack with simmering rage and verbal diatribes.  Rip Torn plays an aging Professor who watches the proceedings with both humor and disdain, occasionally feeling the need to throw himself into the fray to try to ground the proceedings. 

The final piece of the dysfunctional puzzle appears in the form of Vincent (Tony Goldwyn), the former assistant to their father.  Vincent suddenly mysteriously reappears in their lives out of the blue after many years – coincidentally on Irene's twenty-second birthday. 

They all quarrel ravenously amongst their lovers and themselves to the point that one wonders how they have survived all this time together.  In fact, the constant bickering, all of it unusually verbose and pithy, wears on the audience a bit.  It all leaves you wondering if any of these people are ever happy about anything in life (except for Torn's character, the only one who seems to have any type of balance or perspective.).

Most of the acting – while maybe modulated a little high due to the movie's roots on the boards – is still very impressive.  In particular, Bello stands out in a role that is so defeated and bitter that she should be completely unlikable.  However, the actress gives her substance and nuance.  You can't help but like her even when you hate the things she says and does.  Masterson is much more restrained in her role and Christensen has an innocent charm which wavers a bit when the character faces her darker side. 

Eric McCormack is also surprisingly good.  You never would have pictured this kind of throbbing intensity during the years he's toiled light-heartedly in Will and Grace.  On the other hand, Elizabeth Banks plays the fiancée as a working class nightmare.  Unfortunately this movie completely overlooks the charm and sexiness that the actress showed in her supporting role in The 40 Year-Old Virgin.  It's not the performer's fault.  It's the role they gave her, and it seems a waste of talent.

The Sisters has some terrific acting and a lot of very good moments, but watching it you can't help but think you'd probably have enjoyed it a lot more on the stage, where it really belongs.  (4/06)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2006   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: June 13, 2006.

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Copyright ©2006   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: June 13, 2006.

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