By Rob Blackwelder
'Tis the season of emotionally manipulative movies, thiswinter of 1998-99.
Starting on Christmas day with "Stepmom" and "Patch Adams," the major studios have served up several moviesthat shamelessly, and often insincerely, strip-mine out tear ducts forevery drop of moisture they can muster.
The second wave of this incursion started Valentine's weekendwith "MessageIn a Bottle" (widower Kevin Costner learnsto love again) and this week the siege continues with "The Other Sister,"the soft-hearted story of a mentally challenged young woman learning tosupport herself and falling in love.
Now I admit to being a cynic by nature, but I also havea soft spot the size of a small city when I'm not being shot in the facewith a payload of pathos.
Having said that, "The Other Sister" is the mostsincere, unregulated and honestly sentimental picture so far in this cropof sappy cinema.
Co-written and directed by Garry Marshall (who knows fromsap -- he directed "Beaches") and starring Juliette Lewis asCarla Tate, the slightly retarded daughter of San Francisco socialitesDiane Keaton and Tom Skerritt, "The Other Sister" is the kindof movie that threatens to turn tragic or melodramatic at any moment. But,in a refreshing change, it never does.
The story follows Carla as she returns to her family aftera 10 years at an upscale care home and school. Her reintroduction to familylife is awkward, as her controlling and ultra-edgy mother attempts to shelterCarla while trying to make up for a decade of distance by "treating"her to mandatory tennis lessons and shopping sprees.
Carla, of course, has other ideas and enrolls in communitycollege, where she meets Daniel (Giovanni Ribisi), a similarly challengedfella with a job (cookie maker at a bakery), a small apartment and a penchantfor the music of marching bands.
Now filled with like ambitions and falling in love to boot,Carla begins to assert herself as a capable adult, pulling against hermother's newly-rediscovered and steel-belted apron strings.
The best thing about "The Other Sister" is thatthe script, once it gets past the obligatory mean kids at school, isn'tfilled with the kind of pre-fabricated obstacles and crises a story likethis invites. The focus is on Carla's self-motivated growth instead ofon how she overcomes those who would hold her back, and writer-directorMarshall show up people like me, who often go into this kind of movie expectingto roll our eyes endlessly.
The movie's packaging, however, leaves something to bedesired. While it's extremely well paced, a seemingly endless stream ofmusical montage sequences frequently substitute for substance -- especiallywhen it comes to Carla and Daniel spending time together -- and it is pepperedwith many, mostly forgivable, slips in common sense.
As Carla and Daniel move toward a possible marriage, Marshall'sscript becomes more mechanical, punching up the story with predictablepoints of tension. He also gets a little generic at times, writing oneof Carla's sisters as the token Hollywood lesbian in Donna Karan suits,perfect makeup and a carbon copy girlfriend (no dykes allowed). And inthe third act he falls back on one of those movie weddings (not Carla's)that exist in the plot only so someone can make a scene.
Lewis and Ribisi give accomplished performances, lendingCarla and Daniel depth, dignity and strength of character that ralliesthe audience behind them early on. In fact, everyone in the cast is uncommonlynatural, especially Skerritt as the devoted father who insists on givingCarla a chance to prove herself.
Only poor Diane Keaton is stuck in a wildly inconsistentrole as a shrewish flake of a mother who waffles exhaustingly about herdaughter's independence. But she still manages to come off sympatheticallyonce she stops throwing fits.
"The Other Sister" doesn't try to be a three-hankiemovie, like its recent rivals, and that's why it doesn't disappoint, evenif it is far from perfect.
By the way, the attack of the tear-jerkers isn't over yet.On March 12, Michelle Pfiffer plays the mother of a missing child in "DeepEnd of the Ocean," which may be the most insistently mawkish of allthe movies mentioned here.
Run time: 129 mins
In Theaters: Friday 26th February 1999
Distributed by: Buena Vista
Production compaines: Touchstone Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
Fresh: 14 Rotten: 34
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Director: Garry Marshall
Starring: Juliette Lewis as Carla Tate, Diane Keaton as Elizabeth Tate, Tom Skerritt as Dr. Radley Tate, Giovanni Ribisi as Daniel McMann, Poppy Montgomery as Caroline Tate, Sarah Paulson as Heather Tate, Linda Thorson as Drew Evanson, Joe Flanigan as Jeff Reed, Juliet Mills as Winnie the Maid, Tracy Reiner as Michelle, Hope Alexander-Willis as Marge, Harvey Miller as Dr. Johnson, Héctor Elizondo as Ernie, Almayvonne as Rachel - Tech School (as Alma Yvonne), Marvin Braverman as Uncle Sam Teacher - Tech School
Also starring: Hector Elizondo
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