Debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival, Sisters & Brothers is a film you want to like thanks to its fleshed-out characters but it devolves into cliches and predictable outcomes, sinking the storylines to an unpalatable level.
Sibling relationships are under the microscope in Sisters & Brothers, the latest film from Canadian director Carl Bessai, who also used the ensemble technique for Mothers & Daughters and Fathers & Sons. If you have a brother or sister, you'll be able to relate any of the pairs profiled in the film, as the writing is often sharp in the first half.
We meet Jerry (Benjamin Ratner) and Louise (Gabrielle Miller, of Corner Gas fame), a bro and sis with a decidedly tough problem: Jerry suffers from schizophrenia and Louise has to nurse him back to normalcy. She soothes him during his fits and tries to understand why he chooses a homeless man as a lawyer. The tension between the two is displayed perfectly, and you start to sympathize with both Jerry and Louise as they try to find peace with each other.
In another storyline, Justin (Cory Monteith from Glee) is a famous young actor meeting his brother Rory (Dustin Mulligan) at the airport as screaming girls mob them. Rory explains why he's passionate about helping children in Africa as Justin looks out the limo window absent-mindedly. They don't vibe as well as they thought they would; Rory complains Justin is obsessed with fame while still remaining lonely and Justin criticizes Rory for not helping their mother. After all, the hotshot actor can afford to send his mom cheques every month. Some of the arguments between the two showcase some of the best dialogue in the film.
We're then shuttled to two sisters, Nikki (Amanda Crew) and Maggie (Camille Sullivan), and Bessai sticks with the starstruck-actor theme - Nikki wants to make it in Hollywood while Maggie tries to bring her down to earth. When Nikki meets an ambitious but foolhardy producer looking for his leading lady, the three go on a road trip to L.A. destined to either bring them together or shatter their relationships.
Finally, we peek into the lives of a mother and daughter relationship, where teenager Elizabeth (Nicola Anderson) is a single child...until her mom surprises her with a long-lost sister from India. The shock segues to hate and resentment, and Anderson does a fantastic job embodying the frustrated teen angry at how a new element will disrupt her family.
As intriguing as these characters become, the second half of the film is contrived and riddled with cliches. Lest this review reveal too many spoilers, let's just say you can see where these characters go before we even get there. It's annoying, especially since Sisters & Brothers had such a promising beginning.
Also, Bessai uses comic-book cutaways and thought-bubbles throughout the film, something we recently saw in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It works for the latter film but not for this real-life drama. The cartoony technique comes off as immature, even if it breaks apart the many varying plots.
Sisters & Brothers provides some insight into sibling relationships, so it might be worth the ticket price for those who can relate to some of its themes. But to be a truly great film it needs a tighter ending and less predictable outcomes.
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