• Try as they might, Tina and Amy can't save 'Sisters'. (Universal Pictures International)Source: Universal Pictures International

Kate and Maura Ellis are summoned to clean out their childhood bedrooms when their parents sell the family home. They resolve to throw a wild party to bid farewell to the house.

Tina and Amy party hearty in patchy comedy

Whether they’re hosting SNL 'Weekend Update' or roasting George Clooney at the Golden Globes, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler pretty much always act like sisters from different misters. (Aside: Poehler confirms that fact in her excellent memoir, ‘Yes Please’, in which she devotes a chapter entitled ‘Partner in crime’, to celebrating their double-decade of conspiratorial cosiness). So it makes perfect sense that they’ve cemented the connection in their latest on-screen partnership, Sisters.

They play the chalk-and-cheese Ellis girls, in a pairing that subverts their usual dynamic. This time, Fey sheds her ‘straighty-180’ veneer to play Kate, the hot sister/hot mess, with Poehler playing the do-gooder divorcee, Maura. They’re both stuck in their own versions of a rut (and battling a sneaking suspicion that they more or less peaked in high school), when their parents (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) summon them back to Florida. The randy retirees have unilaterally decided to sell the family home, and the girls' messy room stands between them and a downsized love nest.

Kate and Maura duly return to the homestead, the last vestige of their glory days, and reminisce in their old nostalgia pit by reading aloud from their old diaries. In a fit of pique, the overgrown teenagers hatch a plot to give the house an epic send-off, so they log on to Facebook to reunite the old gang for one last hurrah at ‘Ellis Island’.

Come the night of the big bash, Kate and Maura have stocked up, frocked up and are sporting smokin’ smoky eyes. But the soiree’s a fizzer from the get-go – mostly owing to the fact that none of the attendees has any recent memory of how one gets a party started. Just when it seems they’re all doomed to be marooned on Ellis Island, a local drug dealer (John Cena) makes a house call and everyone’s defences start dropping (later, when things really get going, a couple of retaining walls do the same).

There’s some great transgressive potential in a group of forty-somethings trying way too hard to party like it’s 1989. Trouble is, this comedy romp, conversely, doesn’t try hard enough. The disjointed script by Paula Pell (a former SNL head writer/30 Rock producer who also cameos) is disappointingly light on laughs, from its weak opening scenes right up to its schmaltzy happy ending. Jason Moore’s direction also relies more than it ought to on the sympatico of its two leads, and unfairly expects the collective charms of Tina and Amy to do the heavy lifting to get us through the boring bits. 

Okay, there are some solid one-liners (including two – count ‘em! – tampon jokes), and Maya Rudolph is reliably excellent as an uppity spoilsport, Brinda. But the best gags are few and far between, and the movie starts to lag like a lengthy sitcom. Adding to that perception is the late-film attempt to turn the debauchery into a ‘teachable moment’ that serves as a catalyst for the Ellis gals to grow up, get on, believe, achieve etc (never mind that one of them is demonstrably bad at her job).

What was a sweary screwball comedy becomes a family-first redemptive tale and it's here that Sisters becomes its own party pooper.  There's a reason the boys in The Hangover never stopped for a group hug: it’s an even bigger buzzkill than Brinda. 


Read more of the latest SBS Movies news and reviews

See what's screening across SBS this week 

Watch Tina Fey and Amy Poehler party like they're teens in 'Sisters' trailer
You can't sell Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's childhood home without one last out-of-control party.