THE OTHER SISTER is a standard Hollywood wedding movie – kind of a FATHER OF THE BRIDE with mentally-handicapped people. The movie is meant to be a heartwarming family movie, but modern politically correct sermonizing creeps in to mar its good intentions, and the movie veers too often toward the prosaic.
Still, Juliette Lewis gives a stellar performance as a mildly retarded young woman. Lewis plays Carla Tate, a young woman who has just graduated from an institution for the mentally handicapped. She left home when she was a child and returns to her wealthy family as a 24-year-old longing for independence. These burgeoning desires are initially thwarted by her over-protective mother, Elizabeth (an unusually high-strung Diane Keaton), who is afraid to allow Carla to take on adult responsibilities. However, Carla eventually convinces her mother to let her enroll at a vocational school so that she can learn a trade. There she meets Daniel (Giovanni Ribisi), a fellow student with similar disabilities, and falls in love for the first time.
The rest of the movie focuses on Carla and Daniel’s star-crossed romance, which Carla’s mother predictably opposes, set against the backdrop of Carla’s sister’s wedding. The relationship between Daniel and Carla is sweet and occasionally uplifting, but they end up consummating it out of wedlock, with no discussion whatsoever of waiting until marriage. The movie blithely ignores the implications of two mentally challenged adults indulging in a procreative act, which is a bit disturbing considering a study in THE NEW YORKER which has shown that retarded adults have great difficulty parenting.
Another objectionable aspect to the movie is the tangential conflict between Elizabeth and Heather, another daughter who is a lesbian. Elizabeth refuses to acknowledge Heather’s perverted proclivities and the existence of her long-term partner. She insists that Heather will outgrow her same-sex dalliance. Predictably, Elizabeth’s attitude is portrayed as “wrong” and akin to her resistance to Carla’s independence. As part of THE OTHER SISTER’s neatly gift-wrapped conclusion, Elizabeth begins to accept her daughter’s lover and orientation.
The movie’s other offenses are artistic rather than political. The confrontations between Tate family members will make discerning viewers squirm as the contrived dialogue strains to illuminate trite family conflicts. Too many scenes are too baldly designed to tug at the heartstrings, such as a cutesy bachelorette party between the three Tate sisters in which they dress up in silly costumes and play games. The movie also trots out tired stereotypes about the country-club set and their supposed simple-minded conservatism. THE OTHER SISTER begs the question: When will audiences finally tire of having their intelligence insulted by these formulaic devices? And when will people realize that the country-club set they mock is actually making these movies and laughing all the way to the bank at people’s unthinking acceptance of facile stereotypes?
Perhaps such questions ask too much from a movie meant only to be a basic, unfettered crowd-pleaser. THE OTHER SISTER certainly seemed to please the pre-screening audience immensely. The movie’s chief redeeming feature is Juliette Lewis’s stunning portrayal of a mentally disabled adult. Because of her artistry, viewers will warm to Carla and root for her independence, just as the movie intends. Her performance rivals (but doesn’t quite match) Leonardo Dicaprio’s seminal star turn as a retarded boy in WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE. The lesser-known Giovanni Ribisi also does as fine job as Daniel, although Lewis brings more heart to her role.
Despite these silver linings, however, audiences in the moral minority will likely neither be pleased nor feel good. THE OTHER SISTER may appeal mostly to political liberals and the news media elite.
Romantic worldview with some moral elements of self-respect & some strong homosexual elements; two profanities; mild violence including shoving; moderate sexual content including foreplay, implied fornication, frank sexual discussions using plain language, sexual innuendo, very brief scene of two women sharing a bed, & homosexual themes; two scenes showing actors in underwear; alcohol use & abuse; and, teasing of handicapped & disrespect for parents.