It’s not really fashionable to label a film “mumblecore,” that much-scorned non-genre name used for no-budget indie fare that relied on attractive indie actors emoting, romancing and talking talking talking to tell its stories.
But even though it has big names — Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt are the half-sisters drawn to mumblecore icon Mark Duplass — “Your Sister’s Sister” is all about the chat, an improvised pseudo-farce that tumbles into melodrama — in between all the long, heart-to-heart talks.
We meet Iris (Blunt) and Jack (Duplass) at an awkward memorial service for Jack’s late, beloved brother. Jack drunkenly sets the other mourners straight about his flawed but still lovable sibling, who died a year before. And Iris, who once dated the dead Tom, feels the need for an intervention.
Get on your bike, she tells him. Go stay at my family’s cottage on an island off the Washington coast. Get through this grief.
“You just need some head space,” she tells her best friend.
The self-pitying Jack takes her up on it. Which is how he stumbles into Hannah, played with fetching vulnerability by Rosemarie DeWitt.
Unbeknownst to Iris, Hannah is already staying at the cottage. She’s a little weepy, and on a bit of a binge. She’s just split up with her longtime lover. And even though she’s a lesbian and even though Jack is an unemployed lump, the tequila starts talking.
“I haven’t been on that bicycle for quite some time,” she jokes, as the awkward, drunken hook-up gets off and running.
And then Iris shows up. Not in the middle of things, but the next morning.
Jack is all manic about Iris finding out.
“She’s your sister and she’s my best friend and it’s weird.”
So Hannah goes along. And as the weekend progresses, the half-sisters bond and Iris confesses her feelings for Jack and things get more complicated.
Writer-director Lynn Shelton (“Humpday””) had the makings of a conventional farce here. And while one respects her decision to not go that way, the clumsiness of the film makes you wonder if she didn’t because she couldn’t.
She attracted big name talent (DeWitt broke out with “Mad Men” and “Rachel Getting Married”) and then sicced them on — with all due respect, this guy? It’s not that Duplass, who is transitioning from indie fare (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) to studio pictures, usually as a supporting player, is nobody’s idea of a matinee idol. The character he’s playing has nothing to offer either of these women — dumpy, no job, no ambition, lost in grief, a dash of charm, but sexually opportunistic. And he’s the brother of Iris’s dead ex-boyfriend. That’s a strange attraction.
The one-on-one exchanges have a rough, in-the-moment improvised feel. But the situations are arch and artificial, the romantic connections inorganic in the extreme. Shelton can’t manage the tension, the secrets and the big reveals with anything approaching a light touch.
So if we must bury “mumblecore” as a genre, let’s acknowledge that “Your Sister’s Sister” is all of its shortcomings in a nutshell — good actors and bursts of realistic dialogue need situations that aren’t sitcom ready, clumsy Playwriting 101 exercises.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Cast: Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt
Credits: Written and directed by Lynn Shelton, an IFC release.
Running time: 1:30