Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
The sisterhood at the heart of director Jason Moore’s SISTERS is probably the film’s greatest strong suit. Long-time friends and collaborators for decades now, funny ladies Tina Fey and Amy Poehler bring sisterly relationships to new cinematic heights. The uproarious comedy tells the tale of two sisters – straight-laced do-gooder Maura (Poehler) and carefree/ careless Kate (Fey) – as they deal poorly with the sale of their childhood home. They are determined to re-create one last night of teenage-style, drug-laced debauchery before its handed over to the new owners. The surprising uninvited party guest? Emotional catharsis!
At the film’s recent Los Angeles press day, the cast and crew had us in stitches, talking about everything from whose posters graced their bedroom walls, to what common office product helped during production, to who choreographed the sisters’ “apple-butt dance.
10. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler mix things up to perfection. In BABY MAMA, Fey played the straight-laced character and Poehler played the titular zany character. In SISTERS, the dynamic duo swap roles – well, at least until the party starts. Fey said, “Initially when [writer] Paula [Pell] started writing the script, she may have pictured us in the opposite roles. I thought, when you have a part for someone who is sorta tightly wound in the beginning and then go crazy, you cast the person who is better at going crazy. I just knew that Amy could play the back half of that better.”
9. The dogs have funny names – and are adorable! In the film, Maura owns a Frenchie named “Polenta” and her love interest James (Ike Barinholtz) owns a golden retriever “Mashed Potatoes.” Pell arrived at those names because “I know quite a few people in the entertainment business who have animals named after foods which I just love so much. Once we saw the dogs, I think we had ‘Polenta’ in an earlier thing, but once we saw the other dog looked like mashed potatoes. We thought, ‘Here’s two people falling in love and they’re dogs are also two things you’d want to see on a plate together.”
8. Loads of SNL cast members show up to party. Poehler considered them a delight to work with on set as it made for a team atmosphere. “There’s a bit of a shared vocabulary. I would even go a bit farther than SNL, but in the improv community, there’s a sense of like a well-run emergency room; if you see a well-run emergency room, there’s not a lot of freaking out because you just don’t have the time. You don’t take up a lot of time talking about how something’s not gonna work or you can’t do it. You just do the best you can in the moment and you wish you’re around people that hopefully are more skilled and better than you. That’s just a tonally thing we’re all used to. We like working and feeding off of each other. There’s not a lot of ball hogs on our team. We all took great pleasure in other people’s jokes and there wasn’t a lot of feeling like we were competing against each other. We were feeding each other ideas and thoughts. That always makes for certainly a better experience but often times a funnier film.”
7. Post-It’s should have a tie-in with SISTERS. Pell and Moore frequently used the office supply to aid in cultivating the hilarious ad-libs that pepper the film. Moore stated, “Paula has a process for alts – alt jokes she’s done on other movies.” Pell expounded, “I started doing it on BRIDESMAIDS, where if I’m on the set, they’ll have another writer punch up jokes on the set. I started putting them on Post-it notes because I didn’t want to be too intrusive with the director. I would write down alternative lines or ideas and slip it to him as this little piece of candy. When I did it with Jason, we had a whole Post-it note thing set up. Frankly, I’m really baffled Post-it note hasn’t done a commercial with me yet.” Moore added, “She tried to give them quietly – secretly – so the other actor didn’t know what would happen.”
6. None of the cast actually has a sister. And yet, they all know what they are doing because, in the words of Jon Lovitz’s ‘master thespian” character from SNL, “ACTING!” Poehler said, “I think as a woman, you get lucky if you get to choose your family and sisters and people who knew you when, but you’re not related to them.”
5. There’s a choreographed dance number! Who doesn’t love those?! People who hate fun – but that’s not this film’s target audience. Moore shared, “The Apple-Butt dance – we knew that we wanted to put that in from the beginning and so we had a choreographer start very early. They practiced and practiced because we wanted it to be – the dance is fun – but what’s more fun is the look on their faces. They’d practice on set everyday. They just nailed it.” Pell added, “Our choreographer, Tanisha [Scott], is amazing. She does a lot of really famous people and their videos.”
4. Amy Poehler’s not sure if those are her legs dangling from the ceiling. She stated, “It was such a party, I don’t even fuckin’ remember. It might have been my legs. I don’t even know, yo’!”
3. Maya Rudolph’s character isn’t a ‘mean girl’ – rather she’s a ‘delightful dickhead.’ Thems her words. She said, “Brinda is a delightful dickhead. She’s one of those people that held onto that feeling left out and made that her identity and carried it through life. She’s got this chip on her shoulder about trying to prove herself, but I really think it’s about being let into the party. That’s all she wants. I was not a Brinda by any means. I was a theater nerd and sometimes I would wear fancy hats to school. I was friendly and I might have smoked a little pot.”
2. The Ellis Sisters’ bedroom wall décor is spot on. Since the girls spent their whole lives in their shared bedroom, it’s only natural we see posters that span a few decades. Fey elucidated, “Jason sent us an email, ‘What do you want in the bedroom?’ I think Amy contributed more. For my youth, we were both Maura.” Poehler, not missing a beat, added, “It was easier for both of us to understand Maura’s room than Kate’s. Growing up, I was more of a hair-band, Massachusetts girl; Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar.”
1. The litmus test for finding the funny. When you make a comedy such as this, jokes need to hit hard. Moore stated, “If the crew starts to snicker, that’s a good sign. Paula has a great laugh. She’s my litmus test.” Pell added an anecdote. “We started the movie with one video village area and very quickly it was announced Jason was moving to his own video village because we were tending to be obnoxiously cracking each other up. He had worked to do.”
SISTERS opens on December 18.