Well, Christmas has come and gone. Someone—and I genuinely can’t remember which someone right now—once told me that Boxing Day is the most depressing day of the year, since it is the furthest away you can get from the upcoming Christmas. Well, you can all relax now. Boxing Day, too, has come and gone and December 27th brings us one day closer to the next December 25th. It also brings us closer to the New Year and the resuming of all drudgery, work, school, and other un-pleasantries. As this season of joy and celebration comes to a close, let us at least try to enjoy the company of friends, the remaining decadence of chocolate and cheap wine, and of course, family.
The Plot: Kate (Tina Fey) and Maura Ellis (Amy Poehler) are horrified to learn that their parents have sold their childhood home without first alerting them. As they pack up their old bedroom and immerse themselves in the brutal nostalgia of misspent teenage years, the sisters drunkenly decide to throw one last crazy party, inviting all their old high school buddies. Of course, everyone is now middle-aged at this point, but that doesn’t mean they can’t revive the same recklessness, pettiness, and foolishness of their youth.
The “one last crazy party” plotline is pretty familiar in movies, from end-of-summer shindigs to frat-house fêtes (I regret coming up with “frat-house fêtes,” but not enough to delete it), but Fey and Poehler (and screenwriter Paula Pell, who actually came up with the whole thing) put what should be a really pathetic twist on the old story. Making all the crazy party animals grown adults who should have A) better things to do and B) more self-control sort of epitomizes Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” but this innately sad decision is handled with care, a certain degree of self-consciousness, and a great deal of heart. It also helps that they don’t use that song at any point. Rather than appearing as an embarrassing, shameful display of immaturity, the party fills a kind of Carnivale role in the lives of the characters: one night of rampant, irresponsible debauchery where anything goes, just so everyone can let off a little steam, and then get back to their lives. Most cultures around the world have that one day a year where it’s okay to get drunk and act like an idiot. In America we call it the Super Bowl.
Of course, it helps that the movie is also incredibly funny. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler bring their usual A-game, a whirlwind of impeccable comedic timing and expression. Like all the best comic actors, they don’t mug for the camera, they don’t nudge you in the ribs, and they don’t do anything too ostentatious. Think of it this way: they employ a style exactly contrary to that of Kristin Wiig. In fact, you could say they’re Poehler opposites. Eh? Eh? You laughed. I know you did.
It helps that they also have a great supporting cast. To fill the roles of their schoolyard chums (regular phrase), they just cast all their actual friends. Tina Fey provided some familiar faces from 30 Rock, Amy Poehler brought along some Pawnee natives from Parks and Recreation, and Paula Pell conjured some SNL-ers from the vasty deeps (she’s a staff writer of nearly three hundred episodes of the show). And then, out of the blue and best of all: JOHN CENA. The professional wrestler/all-American-good-old-boy appears as a heavily-tattooed, bulky drug dealer. Unflappably stoic and demure, he delivers some of the best one-liners with the straightest of faces. What a guy.
Although as funny and chaotic as you’d want it to be, that’s not what makes Sisters work. This is a party movie about middle-aged parents and divorcees having one last blow-out so they can feel young again, and yet somehow I didn’t have an empty and hollow viewing experience. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler don’t do mean-spirited comedy, which I think is the main reason why I—and so many others—love them so much. I can’t quite explain how, but they managed to imbue a certain level of dignity and respect in these characters. They should be pathetic; their lives are sad failures and like so many sad failures, they think that reliving the glory days will somehow help. Ultimately, though, they realize that the only way to survive adulthood is by being an adult. They can’t act like children all the time, because they’re not children. It’s not a particularly original message, but it’s executed with heart and humor. Sisters is a great time at the movies, especially if you’re looking for a dumb comedy that’s really not as dumb as it might seem at first.