Even if she'd never made another film again, I'd always be culturally indebted to filmmaker Lynn Shelton for her 2009 comedy "HUMPDAY", one of the best comedies and studies of humanity I've ever seen. Ostensibly about two straight male pals who make a drunken, boastful pact to enter an an amateur porn-making contest in which they have sex with each other - and then have to live with the sobering consequences of their public boasts - it's also a terrific study of male bonding rituals, friendship, and the difficulty for many of easing from a bohemian, alternative lifestyle into something more stable. It was an instant classic, and it starred Mark Duplass, who might just be my favorite actor going these days and certainly one of my Top-10 directors.
Took me a while to see it, but Shelton came right back with a film every bit the equal of her first, with Duplass again by her side in the unsettled man-child role, with "YOUR SISTER'S SISTER". In the Hedonist Jive Oscars, these two would be taking home some serious hardware year after year; as it is, I don't see this film on anyone's critical radar for these sorts of awards, which is a goddamn shame. This film is a crazy, personal three-way of emotion and cover-ups and hurt feelings, all delivered through ham-handed comedy, drunken admissions and, ultimately, breakthroughs of truth and honesty.
Duplass is an embittered drifter named Jack who's struggling with the year-old death of his brother, who used to date Iris (Emily Blunt, always in our hearts for the amazing "My Summer Of Love"). Iris, whom we learn is Jack's best friend, sends him off to her parents' cabin in the Washington coast wilderness - I'm assuming it's the San Juan Islands - for a bit of solo, contemplative me-time. There he stumbles onto Iris' sister Hannah, who too is fleeing from life's troubles and is trying to gather her wits at the cabin by herself. Hannah, who is played by Rosemarie Dewitt, had us going "we know her! We know her!" for about twenty minutes before it hit us - the junkie artist "Midge" from Mad Men, Don Draper's first mistress at the very start of Season One. Dewitt puts in perhaps the finest performance in the entire film - she's fantastic as a desperate, ungrounded but ultimately sweet and vulnerable child-desiring lesbian on the wrong side of 35.
It doesn't take long for the needy and lonely Jack and Hannah to land in bed together - and yeah, I just told you she's a lesbian, and no, it's not desire that drives her to sex with him. Iris then surprises everyone by showing up - and - well - complications ensue. They involve, among other things, suppressed love, inability to communicate and a leaky condom. Duplass, as always, is superb. He can play this guy over and over (and he does - this character dresses and acts the same as the one he played in "Safety Not Guaranteed") and it's absolutely fine with me. No actor can see-saw between comedy and emotionally-fraught drama as well as this guy can.
I think my big three films this year, heading into the final weeks of December, are "Beasts of the Southern Wild", "A Separation" (technically from last year) and "Your Sister's Sister". Make sure you see all three, and please report your findings back to me when you get a chance.