Execrable: Sister, Sister

Sister, Sister (1987)
Directed by Bill Condon
Written by Bill Condon, Ginny Cerrella, Joel Cohen
Produced by Walter Coblenz, Pegi Brotman, Yvonne Ramond, Ira Trattner, J. David Marks, Gabe Sumner
Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judith Ivey, Eric Stoltz, Benjamin Mouton, Dennis Lipscomb, Anne Pitoniak, Natalia Nogulich, Richard Minchenberg
Its international box office tally of $1.2B elevated Disney's semi-live action retread of Beauty and the Beast to unqualified success, and secured a permanence of position for perennial schmaltzmonger Bill Condon, who's never failed to concoct or adapt nauseous hokum. His debut antedates that latest success by thirty years, but isn't a touch less treacly, for this Southern Gothic murder mystery's attractive production design and three fine principals were wantoned away on its creator's institutional maudlinism. Lodging in Louisiana at the familial manse devised to its proprietress (Ivey), a congressional aide (Stoltz) finds himself mutually smitten with her touched sister (Leigh) and drawn into their sordid secrets by a goony handyman and valet (Mouton) in their employ. Condon sets his shots competently, but flagrantly mishandles players who're all congruously cast: Stoltz's stiff, often effeminate delivery undercuts what should be simmering vehemence; from one scene to the next, Leigh interchanges between charming vulnerability and the quavering blunders of first takes; native Louisianan and hammily proto-McConaughesque Mouton is abominable as the meddling bayou bricoleur, mumbling an unaccountably godawful deep southern accent and butchering French while overplaying his every sweaty shot. Ivey weathers well her director's ineptitude to create the pic's sole consistent performance, bracing no few scenes with the passion of her elder sister's solicitude. Forty minutes of solid plot are tediously temporized nigh to ninety not with compelling interaction but corny cutbacks, adolescent outbursts, and a categorically unconvincing red herring leading to a preposterously phantasmic climax. However, it's easy on the eyes: DP Stephen Katz lensed southern swamps and two plush plantations with a misty splendor almost as beauteous as its younger leads in erotic congress, Leigh especially breathtaking in the flower of her neoteny, notwithstanding a neglect of her exceptional endowment. Neither does it pain the ear, though Richard Einhorn's lovely score is overextended to blunt the effect of numerous shocks and throttle what might've been atmospheric moments. As always, Condon's confounded as much by his slavish conventionalism as his drab dialogue and simplistic characterization. Natheless, he deserves some credit for depicting less the backwoods baseness than the modest politesse of the reconstructed south, and although a yenta (Pitoniak), her equally hymish daughter (Nogulich) and nebbish son-in-law (Minchenberg) quartered at the mansion are at least as stereotypical as anyone else here, they're no more harshly than crudely charactered. If he treated of story so sensitively as he does people, Condon might craft a picture that isn't merely an emptily commercial success.

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