OK, so I’ve gotta admit that I’m a little bit of an uncultured boob who is not that familiar with the writings of Russian Anton Chekhov. In fact I know a little bit more about Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris) then anything else, and that Chekhov was (and still is) an influential force in dramatic works today. Well, he has to be if his work “The Three Sisters” gets adapted into a play by Richard Alfieri, then into a film starring a capable and recognizable cast, right?
Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman, the film chronicles the events of sisters who are living their lives in the shadow of their late, scholarly father. Olga (Mary Stuart Masterson, Fried Green Tomatoes) is the oldest in the family and is in line to be named Chancellor of a University, the middle sister Marcia (Maria Bello, A History of Violence) is a bit of a shattered psyche who lives with her husband Harry (Steven Culp, Desperate Housewives) and they constantly fight, so she seeks the company of Vincent (Tony Goldwyn, The Last Samurai). The youngest sister Irene (Erika Christensen, The Upside of Anger) seems to live a life that her older sisters admire, but she’s not without her own demons, despite the thoughts of her fiancÃ©e David (Chris O’Donnell, Vertical Limit). There is a brother named Andrew (Alessandro Nivola, Junebug), who the sisters almost seem to subconsciously gang up on, even more so with Andrew’s wife, the caustic Nancy (Elizabeth Banks, The 40 Year Old Virgin). There are also some notable supporting character actors in the film also, like the sarcastic Gary (Eric McCormack, Will & Grace) and the creepy but foreign Dr, Chebrin (Rip Torn, Men in Black).
Now of course I mentioned earlier that Marcia and Vincent have an affair so I’m hoping that there are people who won’t cry “SPOILER REVEALED!” from this, but it’s more an organic part of the plot and the fights between her and Harry are more symbolic of the relationship as a whole than whether or not Vincent is sleeping with her. The focus is more on the relationships between the sisters as a whole, and how Olga has assumed the patriarchal role in the family (the mother had died early on when the children were young), while Marcia is the de facto family mother and Irene is the daughter that the others feel overly protective towards, even after she is hospitalized for a crystal meth overdose.
The adaptation is pretty solid, but it’s a little bit of a detriment, and the consistent use of multi-syllabic words clearly represents a disconnect to modern films and screenplays (not that it’s a bad thing), but it borders on annoying after a little while. The performances are pretty solid, and Bello continues to emerge as a reliably outstanding actress, and she deserves more critical recognition in the future.
The Sisters sports a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Now the people look fine, but the level of film grain in the film is somewhat inconsistent, and some of the “visual effects” come out rather pixelated, like a scene early in the film when the camera pans in almost slo-mo style to a house where the family spends their time. Hopefully you can see why I might have been distracted.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a bit of a waste. There’s almost no existence of any surround effects or other environmental sounds to show the speakers off, and the dialogue sounds very hushed when you listen to it, I had to turn my receiver up louder than usual to listen to this film at a consistent audible level.
Aside from the trailer, the only extra is a rather dry commentary track with Seidelman and Alfieri. The conversation is so dynamic you’d swear that they are in separate rooms when this track was done until that theory is disproved about 10 minutes in. Seidelman does get involved with the film and discusses some of the key scenes and story twists, and they get more into the acting and story and less on the overall production of the film, so that is mildly disappointing.
The Sisters is an interesting look at a familial structure from a feminine point of the view. Some of the script points are silly but others are pretty effective, and the actors really put their collective hearts into the film, and it’s worth adding to the ole’ Netflix queue.