Caution: Spoilers Ahead.
I went into seeing Your Sister’s Sister knowing that part of the story had a lesbian character sleeping with a man. I kept an open mind, though, knowing director Lynn Shelton sees sexuality as something playful and the oft-used “fluid.” Her last film, Humpday, was about two straight male friends who decide to make a gay porn movie together. Unfortunately, they find that having sex with each other isn’t as easy as they thought.
Here’s the innate difference in Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister: The straight men can’t actually go through with having gay sex. The lesbian character, however, is able to have sex with the straight man.
Obviously there is much more to Your Sister’s Sister, but the film does center around this act. It’s all in the context. Mark Duplass (also in Humpday) stars as Jack, who has been a mess since his brother passed away the year before. His best friend Iris (Emily Blunt) sends him to her father’s remote Pacific Northwest cabin to have some alone time. But once he arrives, he finds Iris’ sister Hannah (Rosemarie Dewitt), who is there after having left Pam, her partner of seven-years who cheated on her with a younger woman. Hannah allows Jack to come in and stay the night and, at 3 a.m., they find they both can’t sleep so they drink tequila together — a lot of it. They discuss Hannah’s relationship woes and how she didn’t feel like she was enough for Pam. In an attempt to cheer her, Jack starts complimenting her ass and says that if he were a woman or if Hannah were interested in men, “the night would end very differently.” But with enough tequila in her, Hannah says “Let’s do it.”
What ensues is a move to the bedroom where Jack stops because he doesn’t have a condom. Hannah says she thinks she can find one somewhere in the house and returns a few minutes later. The sex they have is two minutes of in and out. (Two minutes might be generous.) There’s no romance or innate sexiness to the event. Afterward, Jack tries to kiss and cuddle on Hannah, but she’s not interested. She just wants to sleep.
The next morning, Iris shows up unexpectedly and Jack asks Hannah not to tell her sister what happened. Hannah isn’t worried about it, though — until later that night she finds out Iris is in love with the guy she just slept with. This shared secret makes awkward conversations comical, as Iris wants to know what the two did the night before and begins to ask Hannah if now that she’s single, she’ll try to have a child.
Pam never wanted children, but Iris insists it was Hannah’s dream. This makes Jack wonder about his night with Hannah, and he takes her aside to ask about their using a condom. She insists they were safe, but he’s uneasy about it. While Hannah and Iris go out for a walk, he finds the used condom and fills it with water, only to find his worst nightmare: There are holes poked in it. Water comes streaming out.
Meanwhile, Hannah is feeling guilty. As she listens to Iris talk about her feelings for Jack and wondering if she should tell him, Hannah is silent. Inside their guest cabin, she clears her conscience and tells Iris she slept with Jack. Iris runs back to the house to confront Jack. She’s in tears and asking “Why him? Why him?” Hannah, catching up to her, says “I didn’t know you were in love with him!” Jack is taken aback, but he wants to take up another issue: “You poked holes in the condom!”
Hannah is also crying now and admits “I wanted a baby. I’m a terrible person.”
A lesbian sperm-stealer! Well that’s a little different from the typical lesbian-sleeps-with-a-man trope. Is it better? I’m not sure. Hannah slept with Jack because she wanted his sperm, not his body or companionship. I find that at least more interesting as a storyline than other similar cinematic situations. Is she a “terrible person”? No, but she’s an imperfect person, and those kinds of characters are the ones that make movies worth watching. Perfect people are boring. I, like anyone else, want to see lesbians exclusively as confident, strong, beautiful people, but that’s f–king unwatchable! Certainly there are other kinds of conflict a lesbian can have than to do with her vagina, and eventually I do hope we’ll see more of that on screen, but sex as conflict isn’t going anywhere — sex and love are the causes of the ultimate heartstring-pulling struggles. And I don’t think Hannah saw Jack as anything other than a device to get what she wanted, until her sister’s love for him made him a real person to her. Because Hannah, above all, loves her sister.
The sisters’ relationship is the heart of the film. They’re able to move on past Iris’ heartbreak and turn it into another shared experience. By the end, Iris says she wants to help raise the baby that could be in her sister’s stomach. Hannah is just moved by the offer. They spend time together at the cabin after Jack has left and, when he does return, they hold each other as they listen to what he has to say.
If you’re upset by the fact a lesbian has sex with a man in this film, you won’t like it, no matter what. If you enjoy complicated people and can see that Hannah’s interest in Jack is purely as a babymaking device, you’ll enjoy a dramatic comedy with stellar performances and appreciate the beautiful setting in which it takes place and the fact that it was largely improvised . And if you have a sister, you’ll likely find some of yourself in either Hannah or Iris, sexuality aside.