The Other Sister
Rating -

  Drama (US); 1999; Rated PG-13; 130 Minutes

Juliette Lewis:
Carla Tate
Diane Keaton: Elizabeth Tate
Tom Skerrit: Radley
Giovanni Ribisi: Daniel

Produced by David Hoberman, Alexandra Rose, Ellen H. Schwartz, Jonathan B. Schwartz and Michael Stipe; Directed by Garry Marshall; Screenwritten by Alexandra Rose, Blair Richwood, Garry Marshall and Bob Brunner

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Written by DAVID KEYES

There is a moment in Garry Marshall's "The Other Sister" where two mentally disabled characters get together to study the physical positions outlined in a book called "The Joy Of Sex." They examine each page carefully, pointing out the certain positions that "look pretty good," and the ones that don't. Smiles come across their faces, and then frowns. Suddenly, the woman turns to the boy and asks him, "How much do you weigh?" That scene, of course, has been played over and over again in television ads for the film's campaign, but it's one of the best moments in the film, and I'm a little disappointed that the filmmakers chose to reveal it beforehand. But then again, this is showbusiness: if trailers don't spoil the surprises, the critics do.

"The Other Sister" is an awkwardly entertaining film; it's poignant and funny, yet manipulative in the way it provokes emotion. This is what we critics call a 'weepie,' in which the sentimental values are contrived and even unconvincing. Critics have no problem rejecting these types of films (a la "Patch Adams"), and they certainly didn't hold back on Marshall's movie, calling it "shameless," "moronic," and yes, even "offensive to the mentally handicapped." Maybe so. Maybe not. I'm not really sure how to feel about any of this. But what I'm sure of are the performances of our beloved actors Giovanni Ribisi and Juliette Lewis, and they are masterful, difficult, and convincing. As was the case with "Stepmom," the film works narrowly because of the acting; to call the portrayals of these two worthy of Oscar contention is an understatement. Yet, to call the film an enemy of emotional devastation is kindness.

Juliette Lewis is Carla, a mentally handicapped young woman who returns home from boarding school at the beginning of the picture. Her mother, Elizabeth, is an overprotective radical who is worried about Carla's decisions, while her father, Radley, is more calm and open-minded about his daughter's choices. When she decides that she wants an apartment, Radley is willing to help, but Elizabeth is naive and stubborn.

Diane Keaton has had her share of dimwitted and incompetent roles, but this one ices the cake. Half the time, she can't make up her mind on whether she wants to be happy for her daughter, or concerned, or even enraged. Her emotions change directions like the wind, and are irritating, distracting, and even at points grotesque. You should see how more often they change once her daughter falls in love.

Ahh, love. What a beautiful thing it is. And yet what an inconvenience. Ribisi and Lewis do indeed have excellent chemistry, but their dialogue sometimes distracts attention from that interaction. One must admit that even the words sound like they've been taken straight from a classroom of first graders. I sat there for a few minutes and wondered, or for that matter, felt concerned, about the treatment of their dialogue, and whether or not the critics were true in calling it shameless. But then, not surprisingly for a Garry Marshall project, there's usually a sudden action in the chemistry, which permits you to soon forget all about the words. Perhaps that's why I'm not completely sure about whether or not the movie is offensive.

The emotions here are directly composed of obvious situations that are almost like a checklist of events to determine how the film's impact will resolve. First, you have the situation (Carla's mother's overprotectiveness), a swelling of the emotional walls, their outbursts, and of course, the predicted resolution. Once the love story sets in, Carla's mother becomes so extreme that times she brings her daughter to tears. Meanwhile, Daniel professes his love for her, which in turn brings her to even more moving tears. "I love you more than band," the music-loving guy proclaims, being afraid to lose his girlfriend. There were a couple of moments that I felt like choking up, but once remembering my critical position, I snapped out of the trance.

Much as those elements annoyed me, I still must give the film credit for having a few effective scenes. When the characters aren't being brought to tears, or being forced into tear jerking situations, or even being distracted by the dialogue, what you have is an effective movie that both are funny and charming. Maybe that will be enough to get a viewer's mind off of the ludicrous brainwashing. Too bad critics couldn't do the same.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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