Rated PG-13 - Running time: 2:09 - Released 2/26/99

I was surprised to find that Garry Marshall's The Other Sister was only a little over two hours long. Near the end I wasn't even sure what day it was outside. Starring Juliette Lewis and Giovanni Ribisi as a mentally challenged couple who fall in love, The Other Sister uses every trite cliché in the book to pull at our heartstrings, and though Lewis (psychotic in Natural Born Killers) and Ribisi (haunting in Saving Private Ryan) both have some moments, much of their story is overly sentimental and ultra-simplistic.

Their story (written by Alexandra Rose and Blair Richwood; screenplay by Marshall and Bob Brunner) starts with Carla Tate (Lewis) graduating from a "special school" outside San Francisco. After spending several years bonding with her teacher, she must return home to her overprotective mother, Elizabeth (Diane Keaton) her ex-drunk father, Radley (Tom Skerrit), two sisters (Poppy Montgomery and Sarah Paulson) and the cook (Juliet Mills). But they're all happy to see her, and Elizabeth tries not to be too pushy. Radley has dried out and become a patient, loving father, so as to contrast with Elizabeth's super-controlling matriarch.

Carla wants to be independent, so she enrolls in a local tech school. Instantly she meets Daniel McMahon (Ribisi), her male counterpart, who impresses her by having a job and an apartment. She decides she wants her own place too, which (as with every decision of hers) is met with loud dissention from her mother. But after some argument, Elizabeth allows Carla to move into a small place which she, Elizabeth, has hand picked. Soon the story devolves into Carla and Daniel trying to decide whether or not to "do it," and perusing The Joy Of Sex to investigate possible positions.

This is obviously supposed to be a major acting vehicle for Lewis and Ribisi, and they do fairly well with what they have. Lewis has a nice quality of showing the mental wheels in motion. But their performances don't hold a candle to the kind of unbridled energy of, say, Leonardo DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? While DiCaprio was just recklessly throwing it out there, not caring where it landed, these actors seem focused inward, always keenly aware of how they look and talk.

This film often takes a humorous attitude toward the couple; although they are both ultra-sensitive to being laughed at, the script has us laughing at them (not with them) at every turn. Keaton's character is so unpleasant she's almost a villain — except when she has one of her "moments of connection" with Carla. And the relationship between Carla and Daniel (the whole point of the film) is inexplicably without substance: He seems driven by sex, and she by escaping her mother. We almost never see any "moments of connection" between those two. For what is supposed to be a poignant love story, The Other Sister fails to show much spark. ***

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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