Sisters (Jason Moore, 2015)

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Sneaking onto Seattle Screens at the end of the year in an act of counter-programming to both the aggro fantasies of Quentin Tarantino and Alejandro González Iñárritu, as well as tasteful award hopefuls good, bad and miscellaneous Carol, The Danish Girl and Joy (I’ll leave you to sort out which is which), and, of course the cultural Singularity of The Force Awakens, is this modest and hilarious union of former NBC talents big and small with the director of Pitch Perfect, one of 2010s Hollywood’s most delightfully shaggy entertainments. As that film reflected as much the voice of its writer Kay Cannon and producer Elizabeth Banks (who directed the sequel, which Cannon also wrote), Sisters is driven as much by its writer, Paula Pell, and the personae of its two stars, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. All of these people, save Moore, worked with Fey on Saturday Night Live or 30 Rock or both, and the new film is as much an excuse for old co-workers to get together and act weird as it is a narrative feature film. On the tenuous thread of a story structure borrowed from 20 years of teen films (16 Candles through Can’t Hardly Wait and American Pie at least), Pell asks what happens when a pair of women in their mid-40s return to their childhood home and attempt to recreate one of the raging parties of their high school youth. Hilarity ensues, but also an uneasy desperation, the quiet sigh that comes with the recognition of our own inevitable disintegration.

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Christmas in July (Preston Sturges, 1940)

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Tonight the Seattle Art Museum kicks off its latest series of 35mm film presentations, this one devoted to writer-director Preston Sturges, who with a handful of masterpieces in the early and mid-1940s brought the screwball comedy era to its magnificent conclusion. The museum is presenting six of his films, playing every Thursday night through August 13. We’ll be covering them all here at Seattle Screen Scene, along with recording an episode of the They Shot Pictures podcast devoted to Sturges, which we should have up in two weeks or so.

First up is the least well-known, unfairly I think, Christmas in July, in which Dick Powell plays a wannabe adman who is tricked by some fellow workers into believing his submission in a coffee company’s slogan contest has won the $25,000 grand prize. A series of misunderstandings gets him the big check, a promotion and an engagement, and before the truth can come out he’s showered his whole neighborhood with gifts and toys. Deftly sketching the generational layers of the mid-century immigrant class system, Sturges gives as subtle a portrait of the disasters and fantasies provoked by capitalism as you’ll find in Hollywood, a far cry from the sentimentality and privileged condescension of his future avatar John L. Sullivan. The tone is delicately balanced between screwball and melancholy, the warm loneliness of Powell and his girl (Ellen Drew) dreaming on a rooftop leavened by the ten minutes it takes him to explain his slogan to her (“It’s a pun” is his hopeless refrain). Sturges would never again be this relaxed.

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