What can we call the lady equivalent of a bro comedy? Madame Brovary? Gyno-mance? There’s really no not-terrible term for smart, silly female-bonding movies that are somehow considered subversive just for acing the Bechdel Test. (Though maybe someone will come up with one by the time the gender-tweaked Ghostbusters reboot arrives next summer.)
Sisters earns a spot in that pantheon, however it’s defined—even if it’s never quite as good as its leads. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have almost definitely had stronger showcases on Saturday Night Live, not to mention their respective brilliance on 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. And we’ve seen the Watch-this-party-get-out-of-control! plotline at the mulitplex many times before: In the ‘80s, it probably would have starred Tom Hanks, or in the ’90s, Kid N Play. What’s lacking in the concept is mostly made up for, though, by the loony chemistry of its leads, two comedic life partners whose onscreen bond feels as familiar and close as actual sisters’. It helps that they’ve each cast themselves against type, or at least the ones they last played opposite each other in 2008’s Baby Mama: Fey takes the role of Kate, a marginally employed, emotionally arrested beautician who is a danger to her clients’ eyebrows and a near-constant disappointment to her teenage daughter. Poehler’s Maura is the responsible one, a nurse and freelance humanitarian—she likes to pass out inspirational sayings to strangers and offer sunscreen and unsolicited life advice to guys who look homeless—even though her perky do-gooding is partly a cover for post-divorce loneliness.
When the fortysomething sisters find out that their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) are selling the house they grew up in, they have approximately three days to get to Orlando and clear out their perfectly preserved childhood bedrooms before the new owners, a nasty pair of passive-aggressive yuppies, take over. But after a night spent reading old diaries and digging up dusty pop-culture artifacts (a still-bendy Thighmaster, an industrial vat of Dep hair gel), they decide they can’t let the place go without having One Last Blowout, so Kate reluctantly agrees to play sober mom and lets Maura have the kind of pills-and-thrills experience she was too square to try for as a teenager. Their guest list, culled mostly from a nearby nail salon and the kind of high school acquaintances you would only recognize on the street because they’re in your Facebook feed, provides a chance to reunite old SNL friends like Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, and Bobby Moynihan. But the best bit parts come from less expected collaborators, including John Leguizamo as a leering ex-classmate/walking HPV advisory; professional wrestler John Cena, playing a drug dealer with a sublime poker face and an Evil Knievel sex life (“My safe word is ‘keep going’”); and Ike Barinholtz (MadTV, The Mindy Project), the lunk-hunky Florida neighbor who becomes a romantic interest for Maura.
Like most house-party movies, this one goes off the rails pretty quickly; a lot of the jokes are broadly silly or scatological, a type of humor that feels more typically Rogen/Franco than Fey/Poehler. Director Jason Moore, who helmed the first Pitch Perfect, doesn’t exactly elevate the material here; it mostly just feels like he’s holding the camera, and by the time (spoiler alert) the whole thing starts to literally fall into a sinkhole, the disaster metaphor feels a little too apt. But the jokes fly so hard and fast that less successful lines barely get a chance go bust before the next one comes along. And a few standout scenes—Maura and Kate trying on party dresses at a dangerously spandex-y boutique, Maura’s surreal encounter with a manicurist—are pretty much worth the price of sitting through all the slapstick and butt gags. Most likely, Sisters will eventually end up living its best life on basic cable, and may not even make Tina and Amy’s career highlight reel. But if you’re a fan—or just looking to be lightly entertained after your 27th failed try at Star Wars tickets—their hit-and-miss is still better than most bros’ best efforts, on a good day. B