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The Other Sister

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Other Sister

Starring: Juliette Lewis, Diane Keaton
Director: Garry Marshall
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 131 Minutes
Release Date: February 1999
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Tom Skerritt, Giovann Ribisi, Hector Elizondo, Joanna Going

Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

This romantic comedy about two intellectually handicapped people who fall in love is also cloaked with the melodramatic excesses of the typical dysfunctional family drama. This results in a film that is manipulative, overly sentimental, saccharine and mawkish. But The Other Sister will also have audiences unashamedly blubbering in the aisles.

The Tate family is the scion of the local community. However, the three Tate sisters are something of a disappointment, particularly to their mother Elizabeth (Diane Keaton), who is aware of her prominent position in the social elite. One of her daughters is a workaholic lesbian, one is a determined under achiever, while the other sister, Carla (Juliette Lewis), is intellectually handicapped. For ten years, Carla has been shut away in an exclusive special school, but now she has returned home.

Carla is determined to live life on her own terms, with independence from her over protective family. But first she has to escape from her domineering, smothering mother, who is too wrapped up in her social status to really listen to the concerns of her three daughters or share in their experiences. Father Radley (Tom Skerritt) is more sympathetic to their needs, but finds it hard to accede to their wishes without some sort of conflict.

Carla wants to attend a local school, so that she can learn vital skills and further cement her independence. At the polytech, she meets Danny McMann (Giovanni Ribisi, from Saving Private Ryan, etc), who is also intellectually handicapped. He loves brass bands, but is not quite as self confident as Carla. He lives in a small apartment, begrudgingly funded by his father, but is watched over by the sympathetic caretaker Jerry (Hector Elizondo). Romance slowly blossoms between the two, but it is not always a smooth or happy path.

This awkwardly titled film gives Keaton and a surprisingly strong Lewis plenty of big scenes in which they can emote for all they're worth, and their clashes fire up the screen. An often under rated actor, Skerritt plays the stereotypical, understanding father with compassion, although the script doesn't give him much to work with. Ribisi is also solid, although his mannered performance occasionally reminds audiences of his character from the sitcom Friends. The rest of the cast, including Aussie actress Poppy Montgomery (recently seen in Dead Man On Campus), seem to get lost and fail to leave much of an impression on the material.

Director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, etc) gives audiences a roller coaster ride of emotions, mixing humorous scenes with revealing emotional moments, to great effect. Although he comes from a background in television sitcoms, Marshall is no slouch when it comes to tugging the heart strings of his audience either (check out Beaches, etc). Marshall and co-writer Bob Bruner throw everything into the mix of this uneven and over long film, and there is plenty of unnecessary padding. Some scenes seem embarrassing and uncomfortable, while others work beautifully. The film is often quite predictable, and numerous references to the seminal The Graduate also telegraph several key plot developments.

Nonetheless, The Other Sister is a wonderful example of the sort of sentimental weepie that Hollywood does so well. But not often enough!

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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