If Sisters starred anyone but Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, no one would care. The slapstick, somewhat basic script, by SNL's Paula Pell, only works on the virtue of the once-in-a-generation comedic chemistry of these two brilliant women. That chemistry wasn't enough to save Baby Mama, but Sisters wisely steps aside and just lets them have a blast. Like so many movies about male comedians doing nothing but hanging out and being fun, that's really all we need from Sisters, and the film delivers on that score big time.
At two hours, the movie's shaggy, and would benefit from a slash and burn approach to its opening act, by far the weakest of the film. Fey is beautician Kate Ellis, the cool, irresponsible older sister to Poehler's high-strung, Type A nurse, Maura. Like a lot of sisters, they're nearly opposites but fiercely close, each falling into functions that are comfortable for them and complement one another. When Kate and Maura learn that their parents (the great James Brolin and Dianne Wiest, in small roles that nevertheless get some good laughs) are selling their childhood house, the sisters flee home to Orlando to pack up their shared bedroom and throw an enormous party, a final "Ellis Island" jam to prolong that last gasping step into adulthood.
That party, which escalates with breathless intensity until it devolves into a scorched earth disaster, is Sisters' bread and butter. Goddamn do these Ellis sisters know how to party. But we don't really need to delay the big event with a half hour reminder of Kate's incompetence (she waxes off Chris Parnell's eyebrows!) and Maura's oppressive do-gooderness (she rubs sunblock on the arms of a homeless man who turns out to be a construction worker on his break). In a more effective plot, both sisters are chasing a relationship, and poorly: Kate wants to prove to her MIA daughter that she can be responsible, and Maura has a painful crush on a contractor played by Ike Barinholtz. Barinholtz is a surprising choice for romantic lead, but he's terrific here, with a sweet, low-key charm that will probably earn him future leading man roles.
There's not much more to Sisters: Kate and Maura throw a party and invite everyone they know, and the party builds, and builds, and builds, until all of a sudden it plummets earthward in spectacular fashion. The party guests are peopled with SNL regulars like Rachel Dratch, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Moynihan and Maya Rudolph, as well as familiar faces like Samantha Bee, John Leguizamo and, weirdly, John Cena. Each guest is used in variously successful fashion, with the rub that the party starts slowly because all of Kate and Maura's raucous high school friends are now adults, like Kate and Maura ought to be. Thanks to drugs, a posse of hotties delivered by Maura's Korean pedicurist Hae-Won (Greta Lee) and a few rousing pep talks by the Ellis sisters, who really need this party, everyone lets their hair down before eventually going balls-out berserk. Sisters is a hard R, a wise choice, because we don't have nearly enough opportunities to see Fey and Poehler get really, really raunchy. They're foul-mouthed and sexy as hell here, and it's a delight.
Some lessons are imparted as their home crashes down around them: Kate and Maura realize that they can break out of their prescribed roles, and that their codependence has its drawbacks. But on paper, Sisters is pretty fluffy, and a close examination of its plot doesn't help it any. But Poehler and Fey are so joyous, so lively, so imminently watchable and endlessly hilarious, that Sisters doesn't need any other help. They each have such a specific energy that plays brilliantly against one another, a chemistry that has made countless awards hosting gigs and sketch comedy bits sing. That chemistry is never better than in this movie, where they're allowed to play dangerously fun sisters who are wholly and eternally in love with each other. If you're lucky enough to have a relationship like that, Kate and Maura's dynamic will ring wonderfully true to you. That is Sisters' secret weapon, and it's all this movie needs.