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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with a Mark Duplass double-feature: YOUR SISTER'S SISTER and SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

As much as writer-director Lynn Shelton's previous feature HUMPDAY was big on laughs, it also featured an intuitive message about the changing nature of friendship as we get older and expand into full-fledged adults with spouses and children. The two men in that film went to ridiculous lengths to preserve something of the edge they had in college, and the results are tremendously funny. But with Shelton's latest, YOUR SISTER'S SISTER, the themes are less obvious, more mature, and less about the jokes, although the film maintains her heightened sense of humor thanks in large part to a winning cast.

Mark Duplass plays Jack, who, as the film opens, is at a gathering to honor the one-year anniversary of his brother's death. He has something of a meltdown at the event, and his best friend Iris (Emily Blunt), who once dated his brother, offers up her father's vacation home off the coast of Seattle, where she hopes he will sit in solitude and contemplate his life without phone, the internet, or other people.

However, when he arrives at the house, Iris' half-sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is actually doing pretty much the same thing, after a painful breakup. Rather than scrap their respective plans, Jack and Hannah decide the place is big enough for two, and they'll both stay there. But on the first night, they get loaded and end up sleeping together (in one of the most awkward and embarrassing sex scenes ever committed to film; Shelton hasn't pulled back on the comedy that much).

The next morning, Iris arrives at the cabin to keep Jack company and is extremely excited to see Hannah there too, since the two grew up being good friends, despite having different mothers. Although there's nothing going on between Jack and Iris, he still thinks keeping his tryst with Hannah a secret is a good idea. After finding our Iris has a crush on Jack, Hannah agrees. But you know how these things slip out.

There are actually a few key plot elements that I'm not going to ruin for you -- some revealed early on and others that are saved until the third act. But Shelton's story is both beautifully simple and surprisingly complex. Jack makes it very clear that he does not want anything (especially him) coming between the sisters' sacred bond, and it becomes clear that he had a unresolved issues with his brother that he feels an immense amount of guilt over never having cleared up before his death.

With dialogue that is largely improvised in an effort to reach the emotional truth of every scene and character, YOUR SISTER'S SISTER is a singular experience filled with insightful observations and humor, and a cast that simply brings home every emotion concerning family, mourning a loss, and beginning a new chapter in one's life.

The cast is so charming and believable, it's difficult to wrap my brain around the idea of anyone not being impressed with some aspect of this movie. And while I certainly don't want to make it seem like this work is without laughs (there are plenty), this does show Shelton's growth and maturity as a filmmaker who seems at home with both broader comedy and heartfelt observations. And it would make an excellent double-feature with the next film.

If you're still riding high on the Mark Duplass train this week (he also has a small role in PEOPLE LIKE US, coming out at the end of the month), he has two films in release. YOUR SISTER'S SISTER, which opened not long ago in a couple cities and wider today, and SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, a much different film. For starters, Duplass's character in SAFETY might be certifiable, and it's up one magazine writer and his two interns to figure out if he is.

When a bizarre classified ad in which the writer is looking for a co-pilot to go time traveling with him ("Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed.") shows up in his magazine, staff writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) and interns Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (newcomer Karan Soni) head out on a road trip to find the author and determine what his state of mind is with this request. Like many great stories, SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is not about whether Kenneth (Duplass) can actually travel through time; it's about the journey and the self discovery each of the writers goes through in their own fractured world. Jeff has regrets about the past; Darius is concerned about her life not moving forward; and Arnau fears for his future. Time is not friend to any of these people.

And then there's the seemingly harmless Kenneth, whom Darius approaches pretending to respond to his ad, after which he begins training and prepping her for their trip. The film features one small surprise after another. The tentative relationship that begins to form between Darius and Kenneth is remarkable. Plaza herself is playing someone so less abrasive than her "Parks & Recreation" character that you almost don't recognize her with all the smiling. Soni is a true discovery. His dry comic timing is masterfull, and his scenes with Johnson (from "New Girl") make for some exquisite buddy cop moments. These two could have their own movie, and I'd watch it on a loop for weeks.

The most fascinating aspect of SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is watching the slow transition of Kenneth from paranoid freak to someone who learns to care again. His reasons for wanting to travel back in time are tied to quite sad and desperate reasons, and his connection to Darius is cathartic for him, and Duplass plays it note perfect. Not too creepy or silly, Duplass is marvelous at adjusting on the fly based on what the other actors are giving him. And wait until you hear him sing (no joke).

Duplass has secured himself an interesting position as almost an anti-leading man, and that's not a comment about his looks. He just seems to insist on playing emotionally well-rounded characters with brains to match. It's actually quite refreshing in the current landscape. I'm not sure he'd win in a fight, but he'd certain have a more charming sense of humor than his opponent.

Some sequences in SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED are played strictly for laughs, while other may elicit a few tears (remember that singing I mentioned?), and writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow strike a beautiful balance in this very entertaining work. Seek this one out and prepare to leave the theater with a big smile on your face.

-- Steve Prokopy
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Readers Talkback
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  • June 15, 2012, 6:10 a.m. CST

    These sound interesting

    by RosemarysBabyDaddy

    Looking forward to driving a couple of hours, searching for a theater that's playing one (or both) of these.

  • June 15, 2012, 6:23 a.m. CST

    if I see SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, I'll take Britt Marling as my date

    by Spandau Belly

    and I might catch YOUR SISTER'S SISTER, although it sounds like one of those dramas with too many contrivances and those types of movie characters who have baggage but the baggage never makes them behave in a way that would risk an audience not liking them for a moment.

  • June 15, 2012, 12:52 p.m. CST

    Aubrey Plaza can take me anywhere

    by 2for2true

    sexiest eyes in the biz.

  • June 15, 2012, 1:06 p.m. CST

    Agree completely about Plaza

    by dasaroo

    although Ms DeWitt is no slouch in the bedroom-eyes department - she is lovely. Mr. Duplass has excellent taste in co-stars. Lucky man to get to make out with these two.

  • June 15, 2012, 5:16 p.m. CST

    Your new favorite movies

    by Bill Augustin

    Your Sister's Sister is the best thing I saw at the Tribeca Film Festival. I can't imagine anyone not liking this movie. It's an empirically good film. And Safety Not Guaranteed is great all around too. Especially Plaza.