24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Mark Duplass

Toronto 2011: This time, 'Humpday' director feels sisterly

September 17, 2011 | 10:00 am

Lynn Shelton came to prominence in 2009 when she made a low-budget improvised movie, "Humpday," featuring the hook of two buddies who dare each other to star in a male porn flick.

No one is getting in touch with their inner Ron Jeremy in Shelton's similarly improvised follow-up, the Toronto Film Festival breakout "Your Sister's Sister."  The Seattle writer-director puts women at the center this time -- and actual siblings instead of just bro-dudes -- as it examines a pair of sisters for whom genuine love doesn't always mean complete honesty.

"This is about  healing, grief and forgiveness," Shelton told 24 Frames in an interview Friday afternoon at the festival. "It's a movie about the basic fallibility of human beings, and our need to accept that."

Which makes "Sister" sound a little dry, like a slice of whole-wheat bread, instead of the comedic shot of rum punch that it is.

Most of the action in "Sister" takes place over a weekend in an island vacation home to which young Iris (Emily Blunt) has sent friend Jack (Mark Duplass) to spend some time in quiet isolation. Jack's brother, who was also Iris' ex-boyfriend, died the year before, and Iris hopes some time away will help Jack heal. Once there, Jack runs into Iris' sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has come unexpectedly to help recover from her own trauma, a breakup with her longtime girlfriend.

To describe the film further would be to deprive viewers of some enjoyable secrets and revelations, but suffice to say that what follows is both a drama and a romp involving love, sex, pregnancy and sibling loyalty. (Filmgoers will get a chance to see it for themselves when IFC, which acquired the movie at the festival, releases it next summer.)

SheltonSibling rivalry is on the minds of independent filmmakers at this festival. Duplass' own directorial effort, "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," sees Jason Segel and Ed Helms as estranged brothers who must come together under surreal circumstances; Duplass wrote and directed the movie with ... his brother.

Shelton, 45, said she was inspired by the oft-cited "Bridesmaids" (et tu, indie filmmakers?), not so much for the Kristen Wiig film's raunch as for its realism. "You've seen big studio comedies where you think, 'That's how men really talk,'" Shelton said. "But you don't really see any where you think 'That's how women really talk.' It was hugely inspiring."

Actors in most Shelton films come into her movies with only the loosest outline in place and instead work out scenes and dialogue on set in the hope of capturing a spontaneous moment. "I'm compelled by improvisation," Shelton said. "So many times I'm watching a movie and I think, 'It's so well-written but you can see the writing on the page.' And I want the purest, realest form of interaction."

Although it comes from a filmmaker who gained acclaim for so-called mumblecore films earlier in the 2000's (Shelton's movie immediately before "Humpday," "My Effortless Brilliance," used a similar improvisational technique to create a real-life vibe), the look of this film is more polished and the dialogue delivered more fluidly than other expressions of the genre.

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Toronto 2011: 'Your Sister's Sister' finds a parent

September 14, 2011 |  3:38 pm

Sweet, tender dramedies have started to emerge as a Toronto International Film Festival trend, what with "50/50," "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" and "Friends With Kids" all landing acclaim in the first seven days of the festival.

Now you can add another movie to the list: "Your Sister's Sister," Lynn Shelton's heartfelt film about a bluff but lovable man (Mark Duplass) and two sisters with whom he becomes entangled (Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt).

On Wednesday afternoon, the movie sold to distributor IFC, ensuring it will soon be made available to a larger consumer audience. (The company has not announced a release date.)

Earlier in the day, "Sister" played for the media, the latest in a series of good-vibe screenings for what is turning into one of the festival's sleeper titles.

Written and directed by Shelton, "Sister" is a follow-up to her 2009 bromance "Humpday," a Sundance hit which saw Duplass and Josh Leonard back themselves into a corner of machismo when they dare each other to make a male porn movie.

Sex is also on the docket here, but so are weightier themes, including grief. And while close relationships among members of the same sex again rule the day, this time it's the women taking center stage as Iris (Blunt, who also appears in "Salmon Fishing") and Hannah (DeWitt) hash out jealousies and grievances over a few days in an island house in Shelton's native Washington state.

The linchpin between the sisters is Jack, whose late brother once dated Iris. Jack, who a year later hasn't gotten over his brother's death, has now become close to Iris, a complicated enough dynamic if Hannah didn't further come between them.

The development process on “Sister” again followed Shelton's favored method of allowing actors to develop characters and improvise lines, although there's a slickness to "Sister" not found in other movies of this ilk and budget; the more elaborate plotting puts it a good distance away from the stuttering-and-stammering mumblecore movies that quickly rose and sunk in the 2000s. It may be made for less money, but the idea of a movie that makes you feel something sad before allowing you to walk out of the theater feeling something good is right out of the “50/50,” and perhaps Toronto '11, playbook.


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-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt in "Your Sister's Sister." Credit: Toronto International Film Festival


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