"Great Cast, Great Source Material, Unspeakable Movie"
“The Sisters” has such a thoroughly indigestible conceit behind it–a modern-day adaptation of “The Three Sisters” that is set on a contemporary college campus–that it would almost have to be a masterpiece in order to overcome the pretentiousness behind its conception. While there are many words one could use to describe “The Sisters,” provided that one still has the power of speech once it lurches to its blessed end, “masterpiece” is not one of them. Instead, it takes that thoroughly indigestible conceit and executes it in such a dreadful manner that even those in the mood for a contemporary adaptation of Chekhov are likely to run screaming for the exits long before it comes to a merciful end.Essentially shot like a filmed play with most of the action confined to a campus lounge (one that is never needed by any students or teachers other than the main characters), it tells the story of three sisters–embittered Maria Bello, rational Mary Stuart Masterson and innocent Erika Christensen–as they try to reconcile their harsh past (i.e. It’s Daddy’s Fault!) with their present relationships. In theory, this could lead to penetrating melodrama but in practice, it leads to a lot of good actors (the cast also includes Elizabeth Banks, Tony Goldwyn, Allesandro Nivola, Eric McCormack and the invaluable Rip Torn) screaming unpleasantries at each other with all the finesse of a third-grade class tackling “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” I don’t mind that nearly all of the characters (with the possible exception of Banks’s cheerful vulgarian) are bitter and unlikable people–plenty of interesting movies have been made with such people in the central roles. (Did you come away from “Capote” actually liking anyone that you saw?) The problem with this film is that none of these characters are bitter and unlikable in interesting ways–they are all unhappy and hateful in such woefully familiar ways that you find yourself wondering why none of them simply find another building to hang out in. (It shouldn’t be a problem since it doesn’t appear that this particular campus actually has a single student enrolled in a class.)
Arthur Allan Siedelman’s film is as flat on a visual level as Richard Alfieri’s screenplay is on a narrative level and you don’t even get any sparks from the actors playing off of each other–Bello nails the extreme bitterness of her character but never gives us a reason to care for her despite that, Christensen seems to have confused “pure and innocent” with “mentally handicapped,” McCormack essentially offers up a barely-disguised variation of his “Will and Grace” character and Chris O’Donnell, as the school’s philosophy professor (which I believe suggest that the college is either barber or clown in nature), tackles his role with such uncertainty that you are almost convinced that he signed on because he heard the name Chekhov and figured it was a new “Star Trek” film. Even Rip Torn, that most reliable of scene stealers, is unable to inject life into the proceedings with his brief appearances (unless you spend your time trying to count how many accents he seems to be running through in each of his scenes).Despite an impressive cast, “The Sisters” is a pretentious and poorly executed botch that takes one of the profound works by one of the all-time great playwrights and transforms it into just another dreadful Lifetime Original Movie.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.