One great thing about films that strictly adhere to their genre is that they can afford to be hopelessly dumb & generic while still leaving an audience satisfied. It’s true of dumb action flicks. Its certainly true of cheap horror. And it’s largely true of silly comedies. Formulas exist for a reason. A genre-faithful film doesn’t need to be particularly inventive to deliver the goods. Past Amy Poehler/Tina Fey collaboration Baby Mama failed to deliver anything particularly memorable (except maybe the gag where Poehler’s feral mother-to-be refused to drink water because it’s gross), but Sisters is arguably just as dumb & just as generic, yet it works like gangbusters. The difference? Sisters is actually pretty damn funny.
I guess the trick for making a generic comedy vehicle work is mostly in the casting. Sisters casts Poehler & Fey somewhat against type (or at least switched from their roles in Baby Mama), with Poehler filling the role an A-type do-gooder who organizes charity initiatives for the homeless & owns a dog named Polenta. Fey is basically an echo of Jennifer Aniston’s whirlwind of an overgrown brat on 30 Rock, right down to the kooky hats. This bleeding heart vs hot mess Odd Couple dichotomy is brought to a boiling point when the women discover that their parents have sold their childhood home (or, as Fey puts it, “They fucking sold our fucking childhood fucking home”). After sorting through humongous piles of 80s memorabilia in their shared teen-years bedroom the pair decide to throw one last rager in order to recapture their youth (or in Fey-speak: to once again find themselves “balls deep in joy”) while they still have the opportunity. The party quickly gets out of control (duh) and brings to a head years of unresolved personal & familial issues (double duh).
Backing up Fey & Poehler’s effectiveness in their reversed-role casting is an untold wealth of comedic talent among the party-goers. The film is more or less a roll call of SNL performers & 30 Rock vets: Maya Rudolph, Bobby Moynihan, Rachel Dratch, Kate McKinnon, Chris Parnell, John Lutz, and so on. And then there’s Leguizamo’s Michael Peña-esque sleazeball streak he began in American Ultra & of course, pro wrestler John Cena doing the same for the off-brand ribald comedy streak he began in Trainwreck. With so much talent in the room, it’s difficult to pinpoint a clear MVP for guest performer (Fey & Poehler are obviously the best overall), but let’s go ahead & call it a two-way tie between Cena & Moynihan. Cena’s tatted-up drug dealer, Pazuzu, is a hilarious detour from his typical persona, but the best part is that he’s even funnier than what’s promised in the film’s trailer. Pazuzu’s monologue about what drugs he has for sale ranks up there with Jason Statham’s self-aggrandizing rant in Spy as one of the funniest scenes of 2015. Seriously. Moynihan, on the other hand, is excellent in his ability to be the least funny guy in the room, especially once high-grade psychedelics enter the picture, convincing him that he is “Pablo Dickaso”.
Part of what allows this cast of comedic greats to shine is Fey & Poehler’s titular sisters egging their guests on to make sure that they’re having a teen party, not an adult one. Everyone makes a spectacular ass of themselves & everyone works through some deep-seated emotional issues in the process. Sisters is strong enough in its casting & in its emotional core to work without being flash in any particular way. When the film hits overly familiar story beats or employs absurdly generic comedy music cues, it’s all too easy to shrug its problems off as being a part of a well-established formula. What a matters is that Sisters uses its formula to deliver a solid line of maniacal humor. Hell, I’ll even admit that the film’s tidy rom-com ending choked me up a bit, despite doing nothing particularly worthy of a single-tear reaction. Genre formals are that powerful. They work.