There are few things out there that can ruin a film as much as over-ambition. I can think of a couple of other films this year – The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things and The Promise that suffered, from having way too many themes/characters/stories to keep track of – not by the viewer, but seemingly – the filmmakers themselves. I’m sure that when director Arthur Allan Siedelman first saw the script for The Sisters he was overwhelmed. It is after all an adaptation of a play re-enacting Anton Chekov’s famous play “Three Sisters”. I think when a playwright adapts his own play – great films can come out of it (Proof), but Richald Alfieri is not only adapting his own play, but also Chekov’s, and unlike David Auburn’s screenplay for Proof, Alfieri has the earlier play to worry about. Obviously when he is trying to appeal to fans of the original he will ruin into some problems – and he does.
The film tells the story of three women who are sisters and after their father August (Greg Foote) dies they attempt to reconcile and return their lives back to normal. They have struggling relationships and they keep fighting with their friends/themselves/spouses etc. Frequently the movie goes for the tear-ducts, especially with Maria Bello’s character, but those moments are a little too frequent to invoke the same emotion as they should.
In trying to make a story about three siblings who struggle with their father’s death, Alfieri has created a very talky movie. The bad part here is that the dialogue isn’t very good and although all the actors try their best to deliver their lines as well as they can, the screenplay always lets them down. Also the film turns into a soap opera – going back and forth between situations and conflicts without ever reaching a proper resolution. We soon get sick of the plot and the sameness, and the constant bitching and complaining about life. Yes, we get it! We should feel sorry for these characters, but when that concept is hammered as hard as it is here, well I don’t know, it seems a little too Lifetime Channel for me.
That is even worse than it sounds because of the wonderful ensemble cast that the script attracted. The three sisters are played by Maria Bello as Marcia, Erika Christensen as Irene, and Mary Stuart Masterson as Olga. They not only look like sisters, but are also all solid actresses, especially in this film, so I have to say that they did a good job casting the three sisters. But it doesn’t stop there. Also making a rare good impression as Marcia’s husband is Steven Culp who is very emotional and is a great addition. Making memorable appearances are names like Elizabeth Banks, Tony Goldwyn who’s getting a lot of indie cred recently with this and American Gun, Eric McCormack from “Will & Grace”, and Rip Torn makes an extended cameo here that is simply great, even though he doesn’t do that much. And this film is a nice comeback for Chris O’Donnell too, who is a very underrated actor and is much better than his look-alike Peter Sarsgaard.
Another ugly negative overshadowing the excellent cast are the bad production values. This film is bland, which doesn’t fit the ambiguosity and creativity of the screenplay at all. It seemed like a play a lot of the time, because of the almost-absent production design. Also, the cinematography and direction are very soap opera-like, complete with the cuts to the faces thinking, which is annoying no matter how great the actress is. Thankfully, the film is under 2 hours, because its failure to keep me interested was of astronomic proportions. Still, talky movies are not supposed to be boring, but when the same piece of dialogue is told to no end, but in a different wording, by a different person, it gets a little boring.
I would say that the film’s biggest mistake is that it can’t hold a person’s attention. Yeah, it’s a chick flick, but there have been chick flicks that I have enjoyed (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, In Her Shoes), so that is no excuse. Also the emotions seem a bit shallow at times. Yes, they feel real, but they are caused by obvious elements and there seems to be no complexity to them.
So this film is mostly repetitive, boring, and simple. Yes, it’s emotional and the acting is great, but director Siedelman makes no effort to make it more exciting than it is in face value. I think it’s a waste of a great cast, and it doesn’t belong in cinemas, but on Lifetime or something like that. At least over there commercial brakes will act as intermissions that might alleviate the boredom.