*** (out of four)
People who know each other extremely well possess the ability to shift, either intentionally or not, from long-developed ease into discomfort. A hand gently stroking an arm can still touch a raw nerve.
In "Your Sister's Sister," Iris (Emily Blunt), her best friend Jack (Mark Duplass) and Iris' half-sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) personify this precarious closeness. Iris has sent Jack to her father's remote house in the Northwest for some Me Time a year after the death of his brother, Iris' ex. Iris didn't know that Hannah, who just broke up with her girlfriend of seven years, would be at the house, and Iris also doesn't know that Hannah and Jack spent a tequila-fueled night together before Iris showed up announced. Drama!
Yet writer-director Lynn Shelton's latest improvised dramedy blossoms where her 2009 breakout film, "Humpday" (a more original concept, about two straight male friends daring themselves to have sex with each other), drifted off. Yes, "Sister" smoothes over some complicated conflicts and feelings, but it also doesn't wallow. This is a relatable, sometimes too-immature story about people struggling to deal with situations they never imagined and picking a path when faced with the choice to sever ties or forgive, to romance or not to romance.
The actors, including comedian Mike Birbiglia in a small role, create a wonderful sense of intimacy that's vulnerable to chaos. A lighthearted conversation sours when Hannah tells an old story Iris hates. A group agreement that no one will speak behind each other's backs, of course, leads to secrets and private conversation. These are inevitabilities for literal and figurative family who know each other's buttons but may not know, say, what it sounds like when they're holding back or hiding something. It's a complex, perceptive portrait of the bond and rivalry between siblings that's not overly idealistic: These characters frequently act selfishly, more likely to ask for forgiveness than permission.
What do we hold onto, and of what do we let go? With many laughs and a streak of loneliness, the elegantly structured "My Sister's Sister" taps into human nature—from the way relationships can confine as much as liberate to the kindness of pretending to love food you hate for the cook's benefit.
*** (out of four)