The Other Sister

Originally written March 9, 1999

The Other Sister Disappoints

This is the worst time of the year for new releases and everybody knows it. Hollywood almost apologizes to the public in January and February for all the serious and thought provoking stuff (the movies that are good for you) they throw at us in November and December. To balance out all the “real” movies, they roll out the “softies” and the “stupids,” as I call them. No serious film comes out in January or February because the Oscar contenders are still lingering at the multi-plexes and no film released this early is ever in contention by the end of the year. So we must suffer through. Last week, it was Message in a Bottle, and now it’s The Other Sister. At least I understand the phenomenon. That makes it almost bearable.

The Other Sister’s heart is certainly in the right place. Co-written and directed by Garry Marshall, this film is gentle, well meaning, funny in all the right places, and completely unfulfilling. While the performances are across-the-board fine and at times truly amazing, the script fails miserably to support these characters that the actors so valiantly portray.

Juliette Lewis plays Carla Tate, a slightly mentally challenged young woman who returns home after graduating from a special-needs school. Feeling constricted by her overprotective mother, Carla yearns for her independence. She insists on going to a “real” school to earn a “real” degree and to eventually get a “real” job. She then meets a similarly challenged young man, Daniel (Giovanni Ribisi), and they fall in love. So then Carla wants her own real apartment where she can live her own life out from under the watchful eye and protective hands of her parents.

The Other Sister is filled with good intentions and easy answers. Carla is supposedly mentally retarded, but you wouldn’t know it to see all the things she accomplishes without any obstacles. In fact, if it weren’t for her speech impediment, you wouldn’t know that Carla was any different. And I don’t know whether that’s insulting or just plain boring. Not once in this picture is Carla’s retardation truly dealt with. The insulting thing about this film is Carla is just retarded enough to make the movie happen yet keep the audience comfortable.

The conflicts in this film are so painfully contrived that the very characters that drive the movie are betrayed in order to create the drama that moves the story along.

But the things that make something a bad movie don’t necessarily make it an unentertaining movie. The laughs are there, despite their obvious moments, and the performances are stellar. Juliette Lewis tries her hand at comedy and succeeds. Giovanni Ribisi continues to amaze, after almost stealing the last film he was in, a little ditty called Saving Private Ryan. Diane Keaton and Tom Skerritt are fine as Carla’s parents, avoiding the stereotypical pitfalls in playing overprotective parents.

What makes this film so hard to digest is the ease of it all. Carla and Daniel are just retarded enough to make it a story. Carla’s mother is just overbearing enough but then softens in time for the hankies. Carla’s parents are so rich that there is no situation that cannot be taken care of. What would this story have been if the parents were middle class? Oh, gee, then we might be uncomfortable seeing the financial burden this girl really could be….

Convenience is the catchword for The Other Sister. Despite its energy and good intentions, The Other Sister is just too contrived and too easy.

If you are looking for non-threatening social issues, a simple story, fine performances that transcend a script and easy laughs, The Other Sister just may be your early March fix.

But just until the better movies come along.

My rating: ** Wait for video