Teasing Threads – Sundry Film and Literary Criticism: Jason Moore’s ‘Sisters’

Chris Palazzolo notices something missing from Sisters directed by Jason Moore (2015)

SistersThe pop-sociological concept of Generations is becoming increasingly tatty the further away we get from the post WW2 baby-boom where the concept first appeared (as a marketing device differentiating demographics for the post-war consumer economy). My understanding of a generation is that it broadly covers a period of 25 years which is the approximate time from when most of its members were born (say 1946) to when they start having children themselves (1971). Those children form the next generation, the Generation X, who, 25 years later (1996), start breeding Generation Y, and so on. Following this logic it would seem that there have only been three generations, but now we’re hearing about Gen Z, Millennials etc, so it seems the concept is almost meaningless. Without the singular historical event of World War and Aftershock (mass death followed by mass birth) breeding patterns (in the west at least) are too uneven to be given the label Generation.

If the concept of Generations was once scientific, it is now entirely mythological (in the semiotic sense of the word); that is to say a kind of paradigm of demographic categories from which stock behaviours and attitudes can be drawn by culture industries; risky for dramatists to use, handy for newspaper opinion columns and lifestyle blogs, and invaluable for comedy because its insulting simplicity is already funny. In Jason Moore’s farce Sisters this paradigm is not much more sophisticated than an Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman joke; we get the middle-aged and disappointed Gen X, the ethereally smug and propertied baby-boomers, and the hyper-responsible and vapid Gen Y. So it’s telling that it’s the most sophisticated thing about this movie because every stereotype of intergenerational misunderstanding is used to motivate a sequence of very low-brow gags. When flaky Gen X sisters (Amy Poehler and Tina Fey), discover their baby-boomer parents are selling their old house to a clean-cut Gen Y couple, they decide to throw a party for all their neighbourhood friends. However when all the old chums want to do is sit around and whine about their aches and pains, the sisters bring in a drug dealer with every single drug imaginable to liven things up. The whole set-up is an excuse for a lot of middle-aged delinquency.

There are four things I wish to say about this movie. 1. The destruction of the house by these greying, pudgy sad-sacks is very funny. The inference is that Gen X were never properly domesticated (the true carriers of the flame of social revolt that their baby boomer parents sold out to for welfare, white goods and negative gearing,) but were too lazy or cynical (or too few in number) to form social movements. They sit amid a material opulence they didn’t pay for, that never really interested them, but nonetheless they depend on as a birthright; are psychologically astute enough to be aware of their cowardice, and so have arrived at middle age as miserable unfulfilled misfits. 2. After so much ‘body’ humour, farts, penis and vagina jokes, and anal trauma, I have to say that at the end I could ‘smell’ Poehler and Fey on the screen (and I really don’t know how else I can express it); I could ‘smell’ their sweat, their perfume, the shampoo from the lustre of their hair, as if I was in the same room with them. It was quite a sexy sensation, not horny, but frizzy, like frottage. 3. We witness the aging and disenchanted Gen Xers revealing their true selves in an orgy of drug taking, vandalism and kinky sex. I’m a Gen X and it’s a peculiar feeling being bludgeoned by such vulgar images of what I most want to do. But the thing is I don’t want to do most of those things; I don’t want to destroy someone’s house. Furthermore I never did want to, even during my party years. I never wanted to take every single drug available either (just enough to make me feel nice), or drink all the booze in the house (driving a couple of porcelain busses was more than enough to teach me the virtues of moderation). 4. For all the booze drunk, the joints blown, coke snorted and crack smoked, I didn’t see one cigarette. Why has that particular Gen X motif been erased? Where’s the chain-smoking Winona Ryder from Reality Bites?
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