Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are as classic a comic fit as Laurel and Hardy, Aykroyd and Belushi or Ferrell and Reilly, and Sisters is the movie in which they perfect their funny formula. It's their E=mc2 with a hard R (rating, that is) — a breakthrough that proves raunch with a heart is something these two do as hilariously as anyone.
I can't tell you how many times I was certain Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill was about to walk into a scene in this film, and I mean that as the highest flattery. Sisters goes where no non-Apatow comedy has gone before. It's as far from the duo's previous pairing, Baby Mama (2008), as a laugh fest can get, and I think we all agree that the further a laugh fest gets from Baby Mama, the better.
You're not going to detect the greatness of this picture from the synopsis. Its brilliance is in the details, the linguistic invention and the small, bizarro moments. But movie critic law requires an overview, and I don't want to lose my license this close to awards season, so here we go.
Fey plays Kate Ellis, a single mother with a wild side that's beginning to look more like a merely irresponsible, downwardly mobile side. She's a gutter-mouthed beautician who's just blown another job. Poehler is her younger sister, Maura, a recent divorcée who's never broken a rule in her life.
Their paths converge when the two decide to move back in with their parents (a never-funnier James Brolin and Dianne Wiest). As conceived by screenwriter Paula Pell ("30 Rock"), Mom and Dad are refreshingly unsentimental seniors so inured to their daughters' sob stories that they "fake freeze" during Skype sessions with their progeny. It's a hysterical touch to kick off a picture that keeps similar gags coming.
On their arrival in Orlando, the siblings are stunned to discover that their parents have sold their childhood home, leaving them a rapidly shrinking window in which to collect their possessions before the buyers move in. Kate and Maura decide that partying sounds like more fun than packing, and they begin planning one last bash to say goodbye to the place and to a few dozen of their closest high school friends.
The party — the film's centerpiece — is a thing of property-value-obliterating beauty destined to take its place in the pantheon of movie blowouts alongside classics such as Superbad, This Is the End and Neighbors. Director Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) choreographs it cleverly. The sequence starts off stiff, takes a couple of unexpected turns and then mutates into an ever-more-out-of-control monster of Fellini-esque fun.
Playing the sisters' old friends are a number of the stars' old friends. Maya Rudolph, Bobby Moynihan, Kate McKinnon, Chris Parnell and Rachel Dratch all attend and are in rare form. Dratch even does a memorable middle-aged version of her Debbie Downer character, killing buzz big-time with a tearful rant about the unstoppable march of time.
Poehler and Fey attain Bridesmaids heights, with Fey working bluer than a Smurf sailor and wringing nonstop laughs from her potty-mouthed riffs. As for what transpires at the party, my lips are sealed, except to say that you owe it to yourself to RSVP. It's a blast and a half from Kate and Maura's past that winds up changing the way both see their futures.
Fear not, though. Life lessons and hugs are kept to a minimum. How good is Sisters? Let's just say that Poehler and Fey may not be hosting the Golden Globes come January 10 — but, in a just world, a comedy this accomplished would guarantee that we'd still see them onstage that evening.