Finally, a romantic comedy with a sweet spot that charms and delights.

Finally, a romantic comedy with a sweet spot that charms and delights.

"Your Sister's Sister," written and directed by Seattle-based Lynn Shelton, is first about language, about nuanced dialogue that is trivial and significant and utilitarian and above all surprisingly natural. In scene after scene, Shelton never flinches, allowing her trio of actors, all astonishingly good, to improvise in remarkable and imaginative ways.

This is how people sound when they are talking to one another, this is discourse absent a shallow patina of contrived wit, and so Shelton constructs captivating moments that are sad, poignant, real and hilarious.

Making all attempts to skirt the essence of the plot, which is filled with surprises, here's the setup: Jack (Mark Duplass), convinced by his best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), that he needs some decompression time, travels by ferry and bike to her father's weekend retreat on an island in Puget Sound. Iris tells him he will have the place to himself, better to sort things out.

He arrives in the dark of late evening and is surprised by Iris's half-sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has just left a long-term relationship and is, like Jack, looking for space to reflect and nurture her battered emotions. They meet cute on the front porch. Hannah, armed with an oar, thinks he is a burglar. Jack is merely searching for a hidden key. They've never met before and so are wary of one another; however, with the aid of a bottle of tequila, they launch into a midnight session that is funny and inspired.

When Iris arrives unexpectedly the next morning with supplies for Jack, a potentially disastrous, wonderfully constructed triangle is created. Triangles are generally poisonous for relationships; this one is the precarious exception.

"Your Sister's Sister" quickly becomes an engaging snapshot of a long weekend, one that changes their lives forever. It soon becomes obvious that any backstory about these three is unnecessary. All that's required is to realize that they are people who can absorb an unanticipated reality, one that's a bit harrowing and potentially harmful, and then forgive, understanding that they value one another far more than any self-righteous hurts that have occurred, real or imagined.

The film was shot on location in 12 days with a small indie budget, testimony to the power of film to tell a deeply human story. "Your Sister's Sister" is the antidote to those big tent, CGI saturated movies devoted to "action" and little else, movies absent humanity or insight regarding the human condition.

So take heart. Films such as "Your Sister's Sister" are still being made, meaning the impulse to plumb the complex and elusive corners of our fallibility and generosity and selfishness are ever with us.



Total Recall

Indeed, it was only a matter of time until an action film arrived that was unencumbered by plot. OK, fine, the newly arrived sci-fi thriller, "Total Recall," does possess a hint of narrative structure, but just a whisper.

Set in the final decade of the 21st century, when chemical warfare has confined the global population to two habitable areas: England (aka the Imperial Metropole) and Australia (aka the Colony), which are linked by a supersonic-subway chute called the Fall.

What "Total Recall" amounts to is a very long chase wherein Doug Quaid (Collin Farrell), who might be dreaming, or might be experiencing an alternative reality implanted during a virtual experience that he put on his credit card, is perpetually pursued by the bad guys who might be the good guys. But then it's not uncommon to suspect that the paranoids are out to get you.

Running with Doug is Melina (Jessica Biel) who may be connected to the Colony's underground resistance and its leader, Mathias (Bill Nighy). Or she may be a dream inside of an implanted memory.

Anyway, back to the chase: it's well done, CGI with abandon, much destruction of property, lots of shooting, an elegant, balletic fight scene in an elevator. Running resumes.

All of this has a "Blade Runner" feel, the Colony an amalgamation of Hong Kong, L.A. and Bangkok: dark, drizzly, the dim light from lanterns eerily refracted. All is ominous. Doug looks around a lot. Furtively. Roll credits.