The Ellis sisters, Maura (Amy Poehler) and Kate (Tina Fey), are like chalk and cheese when it comes to their personalities, especially considering they grew up under the same roof. Maura is the quieter, do-gooder type who does her best to make the world a better place, even if the world isn't interested, and Kate was a real wild child who now she's grown up and has a daughter, Haley (Madison Davenport), of her own hasn't learned any lessons of responsibility in motherhood and is just as haywire as she was when she was a teenager. But regarding that roof: their parents still live in the same house that was the ladies' childhood home, or they did until recently as to their offspring's horror they've decided to sell it...
Quite a bit of the general reaction to Sisters, a comedy packed with Saturday Night Live talent, was one of opprobrium when it seemed that just because these television faces had made the jump to the big screen they thought they should start swearing their heads off and doing explicit sex jokes, just not what it was seen as appropriate when they would not have been dropping F bombs on the shows that made their names. But you had to bear in mind the era they had grown up in, where the eighties party comedies were the height of teen movie essential viewing; Tom Hanks had graduated from Bachelor Party to greater things, but Poehler, Fey and writer Paula Pell were taking the nostalgic leap backwards.
Was this a retrograde step? Certainly adult humour was more reliant on turning the air blue than it had been in the eighties, and shock value in comedy was only effective if you were shocked as if you thought, eh, not that big a deal when the swearing and crudity went into overdrive then this might leave you cold, not least the novelty of hearing women deliver such gags could already be passé, and might have been since Bridesmaids exploded on the comedy scene. This was a little different, as while there was undoubtedly an ensemble supporting the two stars, it was Poehler and Fey who were required to carry the film, being the leads and featuring in just about every scene, either solo or in tandem.
Yet the nostalgia might have gone back even further. When Maura and Kate find out about the home sale, they rush back to Orlando to see what they can do to change their parents' minds, but the old folks are adamant they have made the correct decision. Huffily, the sisters decide to move in to clear out their past belongings, then Maura has a great idea, or an idea anyway, that they should stage the get-together that she never really enjoyed when she was a teen, with the dancing, the drinking, the drug-taking, the sexual encounters, what could go wrong? So far, so eighties, but there were indications that the whole notion owed much to the Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards film The Party, once considered the height of wackiness but now seen as dated thanks to Sellers' character being an Indian, complete with accent.
The immigrant contribution here was a Korean contingent led by Hae-Won (Greta Lee), the beautician the Ellises meet at the nail bar and Maura patronisingly feels she should reach out to her by inviting her along. There was a degree of culture clash joking, but we're never under the impression that the Koreans were the butt of the joke as the sisters were, and the amount of (often improvised) laughs in general was sufficiently decent for those who had seen enough of the movies this team were familiar with, or indeed had lived through similar formative years. The party starts very middle-aged and safe, but when the guests realise they can throw off the shackles of their grown-up duties for a night they go nuts, with such talent as Maya Rudolph as the unpopular classmate who keeps getting thrown out or Bobby Moynihan as the unfunny joker who finds a new lease of life when he gets super-high in a Scarface impression proving diverting. The main problem were the non-party scenes: there's a slow build-up, and the overlong coda akin to one of those moral lessons eighties sitcoms felt the need to include to prove they were sensible really. Music by Christophe Beck.