One sister gets married, then the other sister does.
There's not much plot in Garry Marshall's new movie, but
that's not what we came for. "The Other Sister" features a
crackerjack performance by Juliette Lewis, the twenty-four-
year old actress whose career has found her in vulnerable
roles but with a determined sexual presence. In her most
complex performance to date, Lewis plays Carla Tate, a mildly
retarded young woman who seeks first a refuge from her
overprotective mother, later opts for the independence of her
own apartment, and finally goes for the same pleasures of
domesticity that are the birthright of every decent person.
At the opening of the story, Carla (Juliette Lewis) is headed
home from an institution for the mentally challenged,
accompanied by her well-heeled dad, Bradley (Tom Skerritt).
She has mixed feelings, and no wonder. Her mother,
Elizabeth (Diane Keaton), does not treat her like the grown-
up woman she is, but instead smothers her, insisting that she
need not go back to school at least in the near future, and
demonstrating virtually no trust in a rosy future for her
slow-talking, slow-thinking girl. Apparently forgetting that
Carla has at the same emotional needs as her other two
daughters, Caroline and Heather, she is later dismayed to
discover that Carla has formed an emotional bond with a
mentally-challenged young baker, Daniel (Giovanni Ribisi)
and wants an apartment of her own. While Elizabeth basks
in the glow of Caroline, who is about to marry a devilishly
handsome and articulate fellow, she is none too delighted
with young Heather, a lesbian whose partner Michelle is
ostracized and refused an invitation to Caroline's wedding.
The principal attraction of the movie is Juliette Lewis,
whose portrayal of an intellectual dull and emotionally volatile
20-something is deeper and more affecting than was Dustin
Hoffman's poker-faced performance as Barry Levinson's
autistic "Rain Man." She draws laughs by her innocent way
of fouling up dignified affairs. In one scene, her mother is
being honored for her founding of a shelter for stray dogs.
Carla blamelessly barks at one German Shepherd and opens
the gates to free the animals from their benefactors. In the
film's prize moments, Carla takes advantage of a free facial
makeover at a San Francisco department store, not realizing
that only half the face is to be a promotion, the other
requiring fifty dollars. She ambles away from the store hiding
her plain side from the staring crowds not unlike Brendan
Gleeson's Cahill in John Boorman's "The General."
Giovanni Ribisi turns in a fine complementary role as
Carla's intellectually limited boyfriend, Daniel, and in several
scenes that are too cute by half, the two lovebirds negotiate a
mutually satisfactory day to "do it." They follow the
guidelines of Alex Comfort's "The Joy of Sex" as though it
were a textbook for a course they are taking at a private
academy--where Carla manages to get a passing grade in
her computer science class.
Garry Marshall, best-known for directing "Pretty Woman,"
the remarkable "Frankie and Johnny" but also turkeys like
"Dear God," evokes a stirring performance from Juliette Lewis
while contenting himself with more one-sided dispatches from
Diane Keaton as smother-mother and Tom Skerritt as a
caring, but bland and underdeveloped dad. Life among the
wealthy in a San Francisco suburb is sharply photographed
by Dante Spinotti in a film which at first sounds like yet
another insipid "Stepmom" but emerges as a winning account
of the fears and joys of a remarkable young woman.
Copyright © 2000 Harvey Karten