The Other Sister

I really liked “The Other Sister”…the first four or five times I saw the exact same film on Lifetime Cable. I can’t even remember the titles of those efforts. I think one starred Melissa Gilbert, or maybe they all did. Who knows, and who really cares? Hollywood’s obsession with taking made-for-television fodder and dressing it up like a show pony has got to stop.

I mean, doesn’t Hollywood have better things to tackle than another one of those alcoholic mom married to a satanic pedophile movies, where the kid has AIDS, but has been abducted in a mall by a vindictive boyfriend just out of prison to donate a kidney to his mentally challenged brother? Like that bald-headed exercise chick that screams a lot says, “Stop the Insanity.”

I don’t mind watching a film like “The Other Sister.” I just don’t like paying to see something I can see for free. I hate sitting through a movie that misses on all cylinders at one time or another during it’s butt-numbing 130 minute length. The only thing I can think of that would be more irritating is using a steel wool scrubber instead of toilet paper.

There’s so much that’s wrong with “The Other Sister” you wonder why no one stepped in before the camera was loaded and said something. If nothing else, “The Other Sister” is cloying, mawkish, overly sentimental, predictable, pedestrian, obvious, and just a tad too convenient for my liking.

Unlike other films that dealt with mentally challenged individuals as drama (“Dominick and Eugene,” television’s “Life Goes On”), “The Other Sister” fancies itself as a romantic-comedy, and that’s the film’s first rub. There’s nothing more believable than mentally challenged characters spouting off witty dialogue as if they were trained seals. It’s embarrassing.

This conceit comes from co-writer/director Garry Marshall, whose box office record is filled with more valleys than peaks. Yes, he did direct “Pretty Woman” and “Frankie and Johnny,” but he also brought forth “Exit to Eden.” While “The Other Sister” is neither a peak nor a valley, it’s also pretty inconsequential.

The script from Marshall and co-writer Bon Brunner is simplistic at best. It doesn’t help that Marshall’s sitcom roots rear their head at every available opportunity. The characters never speak to each other, they deliver punch lines.

Juliette Lewis is fine as Carla Tate, the slightly retarded daughter of Elizabeth (Diane Keaton) and Radley (Tom Skerritt). Carla has been away at a special education boarding school, but after graduating she returns home to her dysfunctional family.

She’s welcomed home by her two sisters, Heather (Sarah Paulson), a lesbian, and Caroline (Poppy Montgomery), who is preparing for her wedding. Elizabeth sets the tone for the rest of the film by immediately coming off as an overprotective mother who is afraid to let Carla live her life. Oh sure, there are the standard issue mother- daughter bonding moments, but for the most part, Elizabeth wants to be the wind beneath Carla’s wings.

When Carla decides that she wants to go to the local junior college, Elizabeth refuses, but gives in when Radley gives her one of those standard issue husband-wife talks.

It doesn’t take long before Carla meets and falls in love with Daniel (Giovanni Ribisi), another mentally challenged young man at school. Their union causes all sorts of problems, especially for Elizabeth, who doesn’t feel that her daughter is ready for any sort of relationship.

Yet Daniel is likeable enough, and it’s not long before the two are flipping through the pages of a sex manual looking for clues. Even as drama the events in “The Other Sister” would seem ordinary and lackluster.

As comedy, they fail miserably. Nothing seems real in this film. The actors seem more impressed with their performances than the audience. There is no subtlety or nuance. Everything is written and acted on a melodramatic level.

Lewis and Ribisi are fine if not showy as the mentally challenged love birds, yet they too become cloying before long. Diane Keaton bi-polar performance doesn’t do her resume any favors, while Tom Skerritt wanders around a lot, wondering what he’s doing in this film.

While I’m not saying that all films about mentally challenged young lovers should be relegated to Lifetime Cable, “The Other Sister” surely doesn’t help their big screen profile. I imagine women who don’t mind watching Michele Lee fight off abusive alcoholic husbands every week would best appreciate this effort.



Juliette Lewis, Giovanni Ribisi, Diane Keaton, Tom Skerritt, Hector Elizondo in a film directed by Garry Marshall. Rated PG-13. 130 Min.


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