It seems fitting that Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister should be so reminiscent of Three’s Company, a sitcom rife with misunderstandings.
A year after his brother’s death, Jack (Mark Duplass) becomes an emotionally unstable slacker. Duplass awkwardly plays a sort of hipster-cum-manchild (think: Steve Carell goes to Williamsburg) in love with his dead brother’s ex-girlfriend, Iris (Emily Blunt). Iris offers Jack the use of her family’s vacation cabin in the Pacific Northwest so that Jack can grieve his brother’s death in solitude.
Upon arrival, Jack runs into Iris’ allegedly lesbian half-sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), reeling from the abrupt end of a seven-year relationship. The two get to drinking and confiding in one another about their dating problems, and after a few rounds of tequila, Jack propositions Hannah, to which Hannah actually says, “Now that’s a bicycle I haven’t ridden in a long time!” Cut to an awkward hetero sex scene with lots of grunting. On the upside, it only lasted about five minutes, which left me wondering if that’s the average amount of time straight people get to spend in bed together.
When Iris arrives at the cabin the next day, she asks Hannah if she still wants to have a baby, despite having ended her relationship with her ex—and jokes with her about using a man for his sperm. In horror, Jack runs to the bathroom and retrieves his used condom. After running it under the faucet, he finds that [SPOILER ALERT!] Hannah sabotaged said prophylactic by poking tiny holes in it with a pin. Jack angrily confronts Hannah, who responds in tears, “I just wanted a baby!” and runs away.
Here, Shelton makes the common cinematic mistake of representing her lesbian character as a plot device, not an actual human being. Shelton’s previous feature, the indie hit Humpday, starred two straight guys who aim to make a gay porn movie on a dare. Though she plays with similar sexual fluidity in Your Sister’s Sister, the hoped-for humor falls flat. I find it hard to believe that any woman, regardless of orientation, would prey on a total stranger (rigged condom in hand), and forsake all personal risk for an unruly biological clock. Not only did this seem improbable, but it caused her gay character’s motives to be rendered unredeemable—creepy at best, sociopathic at worst. Since I’ve already given away the film’s biggest spoiler, all I have to say is that the movie ends with the three of them wearing ironic sweaters, hugging and smiling excitedly in a bathroom, waiting for the results of Hannah’s pregnancy test.
In 2012, I would venture to say that lesbians not only expect, but also deserve movie characters who are represented accurately— confident enough in their sexuality so that they don’t have to “ride a whole new kind of bicycle” after four shots of tequila or resort to tricking men and furtively stealing their sperm.