1 item from 1999
At first glance, "The Other Sister" would appear to be a TV movie with loftier ambitions.
Fortunately, looks can occasionally be deceiving. A romantic comedy about love among the intellectually challenged, this potential crowd-pleaser earns its big-screen stripes thanks to its energetic, highly capable cast and some zesty direction by Garry Marshall that undercuts the soapier aspects with liberal jabs of unexpected humor.
Speaking of challenged, Touchstone's marketing staff certainly has their work cut out for themselves given the picture's tricky subject matter. But if they succeed in getting initial audiences through the door, enthusiastic word-of-mouth could translate into some respectable returns.
In a comeback of sorts, Juliette Lewis gives one of the most grounded, accomplished performances of her young career as the spirited Carla Tate, a somewhat mentally challenged 24-year-old determined to emerge from under the overprotective wing of her controlling mother, Elizabeth (Diane Keaton).
Having overcome many of her previous problems during her years away at a Special Ed boarding school, Carla returns home to her family a capable young woman despite a pronounced speech impediment and the occasional emotional outburst.
Eager to assert her newfound confidence, Carla enrolls herself in a regular tech college much to the protests of Elizabeth, who doesn't want to see her get hurt. There, Carla meets Danny (Giovanni Ribisi), a similarly challenged young man.
Living in his own apartment but under the supportive, watchful eye of neighbor Ernie (Hector Elizondo), Danny falls in love with Carla, and her resulting feeling of unconditional acceptance goes even further to fan the flames in a battle of wills between herself and her mother.
Lewis is wonderful in the role, breathing life into a character who is alternately compassionate and humorously endearing. Her quest for and ultimate achievement of her independence is registered in a series of personal awakenings that are reflected across her face like warm rays of sunshine.
Ribisi, recently seen in "Saving Private Ryan" and coming up as a member of the big-screen "Mod Squad", is equally adept at never pandering to what could have been a cloying character. Keaton, meanwhile, does a finely balanced job in portraying a person whose stubborn hardness is betrayed by her own admitted insecurities about her perception as an effective mother.
Also good are Tom Skerritt as Lewis' understanding, former alcoholic father and Poppy Montgomery and Sarah Paulson as her supportive sisters. And Juliet Mills, in a nod toward her "Nanny and the Professor" days, puts in a welcome appearance as the equally sympathetic Winnie, the family nanny.
Marshall, who also co-wrote the script with longtime collaborator Bob Brunner, accomplishes the not-so-easy feat of averting much of the potential pathos by mixing some well-paced comedy into all the confrontation. Occasionally, some of the material's more virtuously squishy aspects poke through, but for the most part, things are disarmingly upbeat.
Among the technical attributes, cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who received an Oscar nomination for his work on "L.A. Confidential", keeps it fairly bright and simple here, as does Stephen J. Lineweaver's production design and Rachel Portman's syrup-lite score.
On the tunes' end, the Pretenders' performance of the Diane Warren-penned "Loving You Is All I Know" sounds like a winner.
THE OTHER SISTER
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
Director: Garry Marshall
Screenwriters: Garry Marshall & Bob Brunner
Producers: Mario Iscovich, Alexandra Rose
Executive producer: David Hoberman
Director of photography: Dante Spinotti
Production designer: Stephen J. Lineweaver
Editor: Bruce Green
Costume designer: Gary Jones
Music supervisor: Kathy Nelson
Music: Rachel Portman
Casting: Gretchen Rennell Court
Carla Tate: Juliette Lewis
Elizabeth Tate: Diane Keaton
Radley Tate: Tom Skerritt
Danny McMahon: Giovanni Ribisi
Caroline Tate: Poppy Montgomery
Heather Tate: Sarah Paulson
Drew: Linda Thorson
Jeff: Joe Flanigan
Winnie: Juliet Mills
Ernie: Hector Elizondo
Running time -- 124 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
1 item from 1999
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