Entertainment

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Are America's 'Famous Best Friends' Again in 'Sisters'

The two comedians' latest collaboration is better than 'Baby Mama,' but it's no 'Bridesmaids' or 'Trainwreck.'
December 21, 2015, 5:00am

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Paper Source, the national chain of stationary shops and high-end craft suppliers, sells a white card with red and blue lettering by the company Farewell Paperie. The card comes with a purple envelope and reads, "You're the Amy Poehler to my Tina Fey." If you Google Image search "famous best friends," Fey and Poehler appear twice in the first four results, outranking other famous duos such as Buzz and Woody, Wayne and Garth, Lucy and Ethel, Thelma and Louise, Bert and Ernie, Oprah and Gayle, C-3PO and R2-D2, and Damon and Affleck. When Poehler was pregnant with her first child, she memorably said, "I don't care if it's a girl or a boy, I want it to marry Alice Richmond, Tina's daughter."

The 22-year bond between Fey and Poehler is one of the most celebrated friendships in pop-culture history. At the end of their five overlapping seasons at Saturday Night Live, they were the first female duo to anchor Weekend Update (and they will host tomorrow night's episode together). Early this year, they concluded their three-year stint co-hosting the Golden Globes. Surprisingly, Sisters is just their second film together (the first was Baby Mama in 2008, the year they graced the cover of Vanity Fair with Sarah Silverman as opalescent goddesses, with Poehler's hand shielding Fey's breast from Annie Leibovitz's lens). And although they resemble each other in no way physically, they can pass for siblings because of their mutual charisma, which radiates from whatever size screen they share.

The plot of Sisters is simple: Impulsive Kate (Fey) convinces priggish Maura (Poehler) to finally let her "freak flag fly" at the last rager in their childhood home. Veteran SNL scribe Paula Pell wrote the film specifically for her two stars; Pitch Perfect's Jason Moore directs; and both stars executive-produce. From first glance, it's just a Baby Mama role-reversal (in which Fey's infertile straight woman was foiled by Poehler's out-of-control "surrogate"). Yet once Maura is reunited with her kin, her inner exhibitionist unfolds: She relishes the chance to read old diary entries aloud, smoke joints, and dance to J-Kwon's "Tipsy."

Despite the easy rapport between the Sisters, the two strongest scenes are each between Poehler and a secondary co-star. In a moment of do-goodery gone awry, Maura attempts to forge common ground with her pedicurist (Greta Lee). Later, Maura, a nurse, fails to soothe her injured love interest (The Mindy Project's Ike Barinholtz) in a scene that forever ravages the song "Für Elise."

However, Fey's verbal barbs add much-appreciated moments of social commentary from the onscreen duo who once told America that Hillary Clinton is a "bitch" (as are they), and that's why she deserves to be president. In an early scene, Kate—a cosmetologist—preps a first-date hopeful played by Chris Parnell ("Lazy Sunday") to meet a PYT. "Good for you, because ladies your age are gross, right?" she asks. In real life, Parnell is 48 and Fey is 45; although Kate seems to believe what she says, the statement is tongue-in-cheek coming from a proud feminist like Fey. The line was reminiscent of a dig Fey took at a 52-year-old leading man during the 2014 Golden Globes: "[Gravity_] is the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age [Sandra Bullock, now 51]." Still, there are instances in which Kate's comments about other women sound downright disorienting, like when she refers to an ex-grade school friend as a "hoe," a line that could have easily been lifted from Fey's 2004 screenplay for _Mean Girls.

To answer the immediate concern of my friends, sadly, Sisters is not as good as the year's other R-rated comedy about clashing female siblings, Amy Schumer's Trainwreck, which last week received two Golden Globe nominations. While both films are arguably love stories, Trainwreck is ultimately about the complicated attachment of sisterhood while Sisters—contrary to its title—emphasizes the devotion between parents and children. When scavenging their former bedroom for keepsakes, Kate and Maura find their marching-band batons, with which they mime various sex acts. But at the end of the film, their mother (Dianne Wiest), exasperated by her daughters' perpetual adolescence, laments, "We keep trying to pass you the baton," in a moment needlessly spoon-fed to the audience. (Side note: It's good to see the double Oscar recipient back onscreen, especially as a sexually viable Baby Boomer. Early this year, Wiest told the New York Times that she was struggling to sustain herself as an actress.)

In an earlier scene, we're also shown a roomful of clocks as a reminder of the constant foe of aging for all the women in the film. While in Trainwreck, Amy Schumer's character was mostly at war with herself, these Sisters are too busy overcoming outside forces (like levels in a video game) to concentrate on improvement from within. Over two brisk hours, Kate and Maura try to thwart their parents (Wiest and James Brolin), a pair of yuppie prospective homeowners (Britt Lower and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Santino Fontana), a high-school rival (Maya Rudolph), the police, a melee of their drunk and high peers, mother nature, and each other, in a mud-strewn brawl.

Although Sisters will share its opening weekend with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Poehler and Fey have each had massively successful professional years. Poehler completed the seventh and final season of Parks and Recreation, voiced the lead role in the third-highest grossing film of the year (Inside Out, the first Pixar film with a female protagonist), and appeared in the Wet Hot America Summer series on Netflix. Meanwhile, Fey served as co-creator and showrunner of Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, was named the third-best Saturday Night Live cast member in history by Rolling Stone, and cameo'ed during the finale of The Late Show with David Letterman. To paraphrase Fey herself: Bitches continue to get stuff done.

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Sisters is in theaters nationwide.