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Comedy's thin narrative elevated by talented leads

Considering all the 'Star Wars' noise, it's understandable that people might not notice other films opening at the same time. But believe it or not, two other studio offerings were released this weekend.

'Sisters,' starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, was one of the two that drew the short straw (the other was the latest installment in the increasingly-terrible 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' series). Directed by Jason Moore ('Pitch Perfect') from a script by longtime 'SNL' writer Paula Pell (her first feature screenplay), it's a story of family and relationships and saying goodbye to youth both figuratively and literally.

Maura Ellis (Poehler) is a nurse who spends her free time trying (and usually failing) to do good deeds. She's a divorcee who spends more time Skyping with her parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) than trying to move on with her life. Maura's older sister Kate (Fey), meanwhile, is a bit of a screw-up. She's a stylist who can't hold onto a job and can't find common ground with her teenaged daughter Haley (Madison Davenport, 'A Light Beneath Their Feet').

It turns out that Maura and Kate's parents have decided to sell their house in Orlando and move into a condo; they'd like the girls to come home and clear out their childhood bedrooms. In the course of doing so, the two start remembering the good old days and decide to throw a party, one final rager reminiscent of the good old days.

Hijinks, as they say, ensue.

As old friends and new fill their childhood home for an evening of debauchery and poor decisions, Maura tries to let go of the past with the help of neighbor James (Ike Barinholtz, TV's 'The Mindy Project') while Kate strives to make some kind of real future for her and her daughter.

There are plenty of laughs to be had here. There are a lot of jokes and for the most part they land no surprise considering the comedic bona fides of all involved. It's smart and well-made. But it's also a touch thin, with a narrative that feels stretched for time. The concept while interesting loses steam a bit as we progress. And so it becomes imperative that the characters and relationships be engaging enough to see us through.

Luckily, this movie has Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. These two are longtime friends and longtime collaborators; watching them play sisters is compelling because they ARE sisters in a very real way. Their genuine affection for one another informs the entire thing and it's just wonderful. They are sweet and crass and extremely funny.

As for the supporting cast, it's a cornucopia of exceptional talent. Barinholtz basically plays the straight man for Poehler; their bits together tend to be sweet, cringe-worthy or occasionally both. Brolin and Wiest are delightful as the parents, a couple of old pros who clearly came to play. Old reliable John Leguizamo ('American Ultra') is here, as is Maya Rudolph ('Maggie's Plan'). Bobby Moynihan ('Inside Out') who usually leaves me cold is actually pretty good as the always-on Alex. There are numerous cameos from a number of comedy stalwarts (including a number of 'SNL' alumni), but the best of the bunch might be pro wrestler John Cena.

Look, there's not a whole lot there with 'Sisters.' It's smart and there's no disputing the talent and chemistry shared by the two leads but maybe a touch shallower than one might have expected. The humor is definitely there, but it still feels like a first-time screenplay. Perhaps it's because Pell is more accustomed to the quick-hit nature of 'SNL' and episodic television it just seems like the idea isn't quite enough for a full-length movie. However, the film largely gets away with the relative thinness of the narrative because there are few things more entertaining than simply watching Fey and Poehler at work.

'Sisters' isn't going to be hailed as one of the great comedies, but it is an example of the sheer talent of the two performers at its center. As a movie in general, it's decent, but as a showcase for Fey and Poehler, it's excellentand as a contingency plan for when 'The Force Awakens' is sold out, you could do a lot worse.

[4 out of 5]

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