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Movie Reviews

The Other Sister  

Without a doubt, The Other Sister is one of the most tasteless films I`ve ever witnessed. I suppose it is not fair to all those other tasteless films I`ve not seen yet, but I can certainly make the case that it is only a little less tasteless than Bubbles Galore, a really nasty little film supposedly about women in porn. In this case, this is a film supposedly about the problems of people suffering mental retardation, but the only people suffering from this seem to be the writers, who wrote this phoney melodramatic baloney. The casting directors seem to have suffered from the illness as well, as they have created possibly one of the worst casting choices ever, in having Juliette Lewis and Giovanni Ribisi play these two disabled people.

The story deals with Lewis coming home after years of staying in a school for the mentally challenged, and the resulting tension between her attempts to reenter the real world and her family`s, mostly her repressive mother`s (Diane Keaton), concerns about how she will survive in that real world. This tension comes at the worst possible time, as the parents have already experienced issues and events surrounding Lewis`s sisters: one is getting married, while the other one is a lesbian who attempts to make her mother understand that fact.

Lewis takes steps to slowly reenter society, and actually makes it to a technical school, taking a computer course. During her schooling experience, she meets another mentally challenged kid, played by Ribisi. He certainly appears more disabled than Lewis, as evident in his first scene, appearing as if he is stoned and generally oblivious to the world about him. At least Lewis is alert physically, if not always mentally. Yet despite his apparent lack of mental consistency, he soon becomes the girl`s friend, and later on, the two become lovers, although not without controversy. (His marching-band fetish certainly didn`t help!!) But the biggest controversy of all is when Lewis discovers that Ribisi has an apartment of his own, and so she wants one as well. Her mother is extremely unwilling to allow this, and so falls into the same old threat toward a grown woman of equating sex and violence: what if someone breaks in, and what if you have a boy in the house?? Yet romance ensues. I think you can guess the ending from here.

The story as I`ve just described it could be made into an informative story. The issues are certainly important to those with disabled children. Yet the director Garry Marshall had decided to make this into a poor and patently false movie. Absolutely nothing in this movie feels real, which would be fine if it weren`t in appalling taste. Lewis and Ribisi, in attempting to play with a disability, talk as if their lungs and nose are clogged with horrible piles of phlegm, and they say and do things which appear to be an attempt to go so far over the top that they could no longer see what was below them. Ribisi is far and away the worst of the duo - he portrays his character as a stuttering, pathetic child. His two worst scenes include a scene where he drunkenly staggers out on to the street singing "If you`re Happy and You Know it, Clap Your Hands.", as well as his scene at Lewis`s sister`s engagement party, where he interrupts to announce his love for Lewis, the highlight being the night that they "did it". The resulting argument between our two lovers is a high point in cinematic pain.

I must say that I do not consider my insults toward these actors playing disabled people to remotely resemble insults toward actual disabled individuals. One must face facts: these are merely silly actors, acting stupid. I doubt that real handicapped people act this way: just look at the French film The Eighth Day, whose star is an actual Down`s Syndrome sufferer. That film was fairly silly and sappy as well, but the actual Down`s Syndrome kid is about, say, fifty times more intelligent and interesting than these stupid actors trying to play "beneath" themselves.

Even the other actors are terrible. Diane Keaton can only complain about everything, and I do mean everything. Tom Skerritt, as the father, must be singled out for the most physically uncomfortable performance I`ve seen in a while. Either his expressions scream out "I cannot believe that I actually am embarrassing myself with this piece of excrement." or he is severely constipated. And the two other sisters are completely interchangeable; blonde, young, fresh, superficial ..... which gave me a shock when I thought that was the engaged sister who was in bed with another woman!

There is also something about the sexual elements which are particularly offensive, as if Garry Marshall, in an attempt to show off his love of schoolboy humour, decided to justify using it by making a bunch of silly handicapped people talk endlessly about it. Like I said, the guy in The Eighth Day never acted like this, and he was the real deal! I`ve never heard so many expressions of "doing it" since, I don`t know, Grade Seven! All the sexual content in this film is included solely for cheap laughs, fully drained of insight. The worst is when the two decide to sleep together, accompanied by Ribisi`s beloved marching-band music.

But, then again, Garry Marshall is a big twit, which is why he will be remembered for his role of Stan on Murphy Brown rather than as the director who made Pretty Woman and a bunch of crap. He does not seem to want to tell a good story about the problems and the experiences of disabled people. He doesn`t know what he is doing. All he is doing is offending some of the audience, and making the rest (myself included) roll around the floor in nasty laughter. But then again, I did notice that this film is in the Cult Comedy section of my local video store, and we all know what good things happen to cult movies. Maybe Garry Marshall does know what he`s doing!

David Macdonald

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