YOUR SISTER’S SISTER: The funniest comedy at Sundance (so far)

There were a plethora of highly touted comedies boasting heavy-hitting casts that had buyers—and audiences—salivating prior to the festival, but a little indie shot in just over ten days has emerged as the dark horse candidate for funniest film of Sundance 2012.

YOUR SISTER’S SISTER comes courtesy of “mumblecore” filmmaker Lynn Shelton, whose last film, HUMPDAY, premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival en route to a Special Jury Prize and critical raves for its uproarious portrait of two best friends locked in a no-holds-barred game of macho one-upmanship that leads to them agreeing to shoot a gay porn together.

This time, Shelton tackles a rivalry between contrasting sisters. There is Iris (Emily Blunt), a flighty professional whose best friend, Jack (Mark Duplass), is still grieving the loss of his brother one-year prior. Iris, who used to date Jack’s brother, invites Jack to her family’s remote cabin in the woods to find himself. Unbeknownst to Iris, her older sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), a lesbian fresh out of a seven-year relationship, is laying low at the cabin, and a rowdy night of tequila drinking between Jack and Hannah kicks off a bizarre stretch of days—made even more hilariously awkward when Emily pops in for an unexpected visit.

The ladies of YOUR SISTER’S SISTER—Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, and director Lynn Shelton, sat down with The Sundance Channel to chat about one of the most refreshingly honest films to hit the mountains of Park City, Utah.

You have a very unique filmmaking style, workshopping the material with the actors at the ground level and then incorporating tons of improvisation along the way.
Lynn Shelton: In a traditionally-made film, you’ll shoot about four hours of a day actually shooting and not setting up, and with us, its’ about eleven out of the twelve hours in a shooting day. These guys just really have to be on their toes.

Rosemarie DeWitt: It’s like doing 24-hour plays for twelve days in a row!

Emily Blunt: Just constant anxiety! Sometimes we felt like we’d hit golden moments and other times we thought we were meandering, but we always felt really confident knowing [Shelton] was going to pick the right moments. That’s what Lynn gives you: the safe space to screw it up.

Did you have any improv experience prior to YSS?
Blunt: [MY SUMMER OF LOVE] was my only other experience with improvisation and I’d been terrified and desperate to work like that again because it’s a combination of sheer terror and the organic that you never, ever get in a scripted movie.

What were your favorite improvised moments?
Blunt: That dinner scene… I’ll never forget it when she tells that awful story about the pubic hair.

Shelton: I asked Rose to come up with something that would embarrass Emily thirty seconds before the camera rolled, and Rose came up with that. You see Emily blushing and crying with mortification onscreen for real.

DeWitt: Your brain is working in overtime so randomly something will pop in your head and we usually censor ourselves, but you have to trust that’s the right thing.

Emily’s character in the film is addicted to guys in skinny jeans. What’s the verdict: skinny jeans OK on guys?
Blunt: [Laughs] It depends how skinny and what their legs are like.

DeWitt: It depends on if you play an instrument and/or if you’re under 25.

What was it like shooting this very intense, collaborative project in this beautiful cabin in the woods? Any bonding time?
Blunt: We watched CONAN THE BARBARIAN one night! The Arnold one.

You MUST watch the DVD commentary of that with Arnold. It’s hilarious.
Blunt: That’s what we should have watched!

DeWitt: Maybe we’ll do that tonight!

Shelton: There was a fire ring a couple of nights; a fire pit.

Blunt: And we all chipped in and cooked together. The dinners were so much fun!

Were there any strange experiences filming in the woods?
Blunt: I ran into a deer one night! It was pitch black and I was carrying a torch and walking from our cabin to the main cabin where we were having dinner, and suddenly I turned the light and there was an enormous buck right in front of me! I did one of those silent screams—like an awful squeak. This thing just plodded off like, “Come on, get over it!” I definitely thought it was some kind of Bigfoot for a second.

Did you get in heated disputes with your siblings as well?
Blunt: Sure! I have two sisters and a brother—I’m the second of four—and I find my family break my heart more than anyone else can if they’re going through something awful, or if they’re sad, or they’ve driven me crazy about something, it will drive me to insanity more than anyone else in my life could ever do. We had a very open, rowdy family.

What’s a rowdy night like in the Blunt household?
Blunt: Probably Sunday roast dinner. It was like a feeding frenzy! And there’s only so many roast potatoes. And then charades at Christmas gets crazy.

Rosemarie, what about you?
DeWitt: My Dad had eight kids with his first wife, so I have eight half-brothers and sisters. I wasn’t quite sure I had a sister-sister relationship with my sisters because we didn’t fight over sweaters or share bedrooms, but I did realize I had that with my girlfriends.

So Rosemarie, you also did a movie with Emily’s husband, John Krasinski, that’s here at Sundance called NOBODY WALKS.

Blunt: We like to be known as “The Krunts!”

It sounds like a candy, almost like Runts.
Blunt: Exactly! We were thinking about “Bluntinski” but “Krunts” is better!

DeWitt: Because you can have a dance move named after you!

Blunt: [Laughs] Who do you like better?

DeWitt: [Laughs] It’s not the first time I’ve worked with husbands and wives, but it works better the opposite way. It would be better to work with John first, then Emily, because then you avoid the hideous call: “I have to make out with your husband. I’m so sorry!”

Blunt: [Laughs] I wouldn’t want it any other way!

DeWitt: I did it with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, and it was better to play his wife [in THE COMPANY MEN] and then play her sister [in THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN].

Shelton: She only wants to work with couples!

Rosemarie, are you going to pop up on MAD MEN again?
DeWitt: I don’t know! It’s like being in the CIA. You get a call the night before and they say, “Meet us at the studio at 5 a.m.!”

Lynn, what’s next for you?
Shelton: I’m actually developing a movie the way normal people develop movies. It’s a wonderful script called LAGGIES by Andrea Siegel, and the people who did WINTER’S BONE are producing. We have Rebecca Hall attached and are trying to find a home for it and hopefully shoot it really soon.

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