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updated: 6/14/2012 12:11 PM

'Sister' shows off its touching humanity

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  • Jack (Mark Duplass) gets caught between his best friend Iris (Emily Blunt) and her sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) in "Your Sister's Sister."

    Jack (Mark Duplass) gets caught between his best friend Iris (Emily Blunt) and her sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) in "Your Sister's Sister."

  • Video: "Your Sister's Sister" trailer

By Christy Lemire

An almost hypnotic sense of naturalism draws you into "Your Sister's Sister," an intimate comic-drama about three people who find their lives intertwined in sudden and unexpected ways.

Writer-director Lynn Shelton, who made the possibility of gay porn between straight best friends seem logical if not downright inevitable in 2009's "Humpday," once again employs her preferred tactic of having her actors collaborate on developing their characters and improvising their dialogue. (The stars get a "creative consultant" credit.) The result is appealingly, believably imperfect. And although the end feels a bit too tidy by comparison -- despite a final shot that's intentionally ambiguous -- it also has an emotional impact that will sneak up on you.

That's thanks to Mark Duplass, who also co-starred in "Humpday," making an understated final plea that's sweetly heartbreaking. This is probably his best work yet, his most mature and deeply felt. And he's been everywhere in the past year or so between this, "Safety Not Guaranteed," the FX series "The League" and his own directing efforts with his brother, Jay.

Here, Duplass stars as Jack, who's still feeling shattered a year after the death of his brother. Jack's best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), suggests that he get away for a while on his own by visiting her family's remote cabin on an island off the Washington coast. (Shelton shot "Your Sister's Sister" on the San Juan Islands, and the quiet, jagged beauty of the place adds to the sense of isolation, to the idea that anything could happen between these people.)

When Jack arrives, though, he finds that Iris' sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), is already there trying to find her own peace. Hannah had escaped to this wild, idyllic setting in hopes of getting over the break-up of a seven-year relationship with her girlfriend. But then she and Jack share a painfully honest, awkward, drunken night which leads to an even weirder morning when Iris shows up unannounced.

Through the highs and lows, confrontations and revelations over a series of days, all three performers play off each other beautifully.

Blunt and DeWitt have such a lovely, easy chemistry -- as well as an understandable tension -- they truly make you feel as if you're watching a sisterly bond, full of teasing and secrets and resentments. (And yes, in case you're wondering, the film does explain why Iris has a British accent and Hannah does not.) Shelton reveals their connection through long takes as the two women lie awake in bed at night, whispering their most personal thoughts the way they probably did as girls.

But then DeWitt shares a totally different energy with Duplass. She's tough at first, a bit guarded, but then flashes a quick, dry wit as the two polish off a bottle of tequila in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. She makes the varied, complicated sides of her character equally compelling.

Even when things get a little crazy and maybe even too soapy, "Your Sister's Sister" always feels like it's rooted in a tangible reality, a place of unpredictability and abiding humanity.

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