By J.D. ECARMA
This weekly column analyzing how women are portrayed in media is what happens when you're a conservative feminist who loves movies. Feminism often uses the Bechdel test as a metric: Does this movie have a scene where two women with names talk about something other than a guy? The point of the test is not “movies that pass this are feminist”—it’s “this is the absolute base point of whether or not women are their own people in this movie.” I attempt to go a little further each week with a deeper analysis.
“Sisters” is a raunchy, often ridiculous romp with a simple storyline: Straitlaced sister Maura and wild child Kate decide to have one last crazy house party before their parents sell their childhood home. It hits a demographic sweet spot by being targeted to women (if you, like Hollywood, still somehow think half the population is a niche audience).
But what makes “Sisters” an easy elevator pitch isn’t the straightforward plot or dependable box office—it’s the real premise of the film, which is Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s decades-long friendship.
In her book Yes Please, Poehler called Fey “my life partner.” The actresses met 20 years ago while doing improv in Chicago. They have since been in multiple films together, including 2004’s “Mean Girls,” while their comedic pairing has been an iconic part of “SNL.” That foundation must have made greenlighting “Sisters” a no-brainer, and it almost goes without saying that Poehler and Fey’s chemistry is the best part of the film. The dialogue might be rocky at parts, but that matters a lot less when these two friends are having so much fun delivering it.
“Sisters” hardly breaks any new cinematic ground, but it’s a fun addition to the growing collection of movies I label “quietly feminist”—hit films like “Pitch Perfect” and “Trainwreck” that let women be raunchy and funny and multi-faceted. Movies where women are allowed to age. Movies that practically give the Bechdel test the middle finger because they expose it as such a low bar.
Whether it’s reminiscing about high school or arguing about life choices, Poehler’s Maura and Fey’s Kate talk plenty. They also interact with other named female characters, including Kate’s daughter, Haley (played by Madison Davenport); their old friend Kelly (Rachel Dratch in hilarious/heartbreaking midlife crisis mode); and arch nemesis Brinda (an endearingly obnoxious Maya Rudolph).
The best parts of “Sisters” strike the two notes of friendship and feminism for an awkwardly perfect chord. Fey and Poehler trying on some ridiculously youthful trends (“We need a little less Forever 21 and a little more Suddenly 42,” Maura wryly notes), goofing off while going through diaries and other memorabilia from their childhood (Kate’s entries are all about hooking up with boys, while Maura’s might as well be records of Key Club hours), taking the spotlight at their crazy house party with a choreographed dance (to Snow’s “Informer”).
“Sisters” too easily lets its two stars carry the show, but that's kind of OK. You already know Poehler and Fey’s magic is worth the price of admission.
Jordan is a former journalist now living the millennial dream: getting paid for writing Facebook statuses (that is, digital PR). She watches her use of the f-word ("feminism") around conservatives and the c-word ("conservatism") around feminists. Find her under @JordanEcarma.