Sisters & Brothers

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Reviewed by Marc Glassman
November 4, 2011

Written and directed by Carl Bessai
Starring: Cory Montieth (Justin), Dustin Milligan (Rory); Gabrielle Miller (Louise), Benjamin Ratner (Jerry) Jay Brazeau (Ringo); Camille Sullivan (Maggie), Amanda Crew (Nikki) Tom Scholte (Henry); Gabrielle Rose (Marion), Kacey Rohl (Sarah), Leena Manro (Sita)

Vancouver auteur Carl Bessai returns with the final part of his family trilogy, which began with Mothers & Daughters in 2008 and continued two years later with Fathers & Sons. Parents only enter once into the filial dynamics explored into this quartet of tales of the troubled relationships between Sisters & Brothers.

As in the previous films, Bessai has structured his short stories into rapidly changing scenes, building suspense by leaving each episode at a cliffhanger moment. It worked for D.W. Griffith in Intolerance in 1915 and Bessai is clever enough to rely on a tried and true formula.

Bessai’s biggest star is Glee’s Cory Montieth so it makes sense that his fictional tale feels as if it could be ripped from the pages of a Toronto tabloid. Justin (Monteith) is a big star in Hollywood but his brother Rory is already a has-been, a former TV actor, now in his late 20s. How do the two work out the jealousy felt by one and the guilt held by the other? Perhaps because the character of Justin feels so superficial, this episode never really delivers the emotional goods necessary to make its narrative work.

Far stronger is a tale of two sisters, one of whom aspires to the kind of stardom that Justin has embraced. Nikki (Amanda Crew) is a hot young Vancouver actress who falls for the line fed her by Henry (Tom Scholte), that he and his actor-producer brother will make her the star of a Xena, Warrior Princess type of role. Maggie, Nikki’s firecracker half-sister, accompanies the ill-matched duo on their road trip down the Coast to L.A. Teetering between satire and something far more genuine, this episode concludes with some well-deserved laughter between the sisters.

Veteran actor Gabrielle Rose appears as Marion, the rather morose mother of Sarah, an angry teen in the next tale. Enlivening this story is the sudden arrival of Sita, Marion’s daughter from a brief liaison with a cult leader in India several decades earlier (during hippie times). Sparks fly between Sarah and Sita, who lovingly embraces the mother she has never known.

By far the best tale stars Gabrielle Miller of Corner Gas fame and Benjamin Ratner, a talented and sadly under-recognized B.C. talent. Louise (Miller) is absolutely devoted to her big brother Jerry (Ratner), who has descended into schizophrenia since he reached adulthood. Aided by the presence of Jay Brazeau, (another West Coast thespian who should be better known) as Jerry’s “lawyer,” this story is funny, touching and heartfelt. A whole film could be made about the relationship between Louise and Jerry—it’s that good.

Bessai’s trilogy has featured loads of acting talent and a nice variation of tales. His one annoying device throughout has been the direct address approach used with some of his characters to “explain” their thinking. It’s felt more like something from reality TV than a Brechtian theatrical maneuver. Still, there’s much to recommend in all three films.

Sisters & Brothers opens the Rendezvous With Madness festival on Friday night at TIFF Bell Lightbox. It’s a welcome gala for the festival and Bessai will be in attendance at the screening. For more information, check the Rendezvous With Madness program

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