7 March 1999 | "EO"
An all-too-sweet insincere film.
Ah, Hollywood. A land where life-threatening diseases, mega-disasters, and handicaps all become just ways to tell love stories that usually only emphasize whether or not two people will sleep with each other. Focus this time on a self-consciously "sensitive" theme about understanding the mentally handicapped, and you've got "The Other Sister."
So what do you say about a heavy-handed movie that contains good, sustained performances of difficult, but mediocre, material?
"The Other Sister" is a movie about two mentally-retarded people, Carla, and Daniel,who want to become independent of the smothering influences of their rich protective parents. Once they find each other, they feel that they can lead more normal lives.
To be fair, "The Other Sister" does toy nicely with the 1967 film "The Graduate" both in its story line and in the symbolism that both Carla and Daniel are ready to "graduate" from their parents and leave behind their sheltered, child-like lives.
But "The Other Sister" is disingenuous: it is calculated to be safely above reproach. If you properly point out its flaws and filmmaking clichés, you are perceived as having been "insensitive" to its "serious" subject matter.
And is "The Other Sister" actually sensitive or extremely insulting? For example, the movie wants us to care about Carla and Daniel as people-we get several chances to understand that one of their pet peeves is the way that people laugh at them-but all of the jokes in the movie are directly at their expense. Part of the movie's "sensitivity," it would seem, is that it is OK to laugh at these people anonymously from the safety of the darkened theater. Is this any different than Jerry Lewis or Adam Sandler playing the "retard" just for laughs-except that they make no pretense about what they're doing?
And "The Other Sister" is calculatedly safe: To make the story's premise even palatable, it is set in the care-free world of the rich without many of the real world hardships that most of us face. This upper-crust world is so cuddly and life there is so easy that even the Vietnam Vet-who wears a beret and lives in the basement with his memorabilia, peace signs and MIA flag-is friendly, understanding, supportive, and an "all-together good guy." In this world, what does it matter if someone can't fully function-the maid makes your Halloween costume for you anyway.
Oh well, at least, "The Other Sister" shows more responsibility than most Hollywood movies by not actually showing the love scene and by recommending safe sex practices. That alone has got to be worth something.