The Other Sister

on February 26, 1999 by Luisa F. Ribeiro
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   A pleasing romantic comedy that might have easily strangled on its own goo, Buena Vista's "The Other Sister" adroitly sidesteps most of the sugary traps inherent in the story of a young mentally challenged woman struggling for independence and finding love, thanks to impressive performances that are both touching and funny.
   Carla Tate ("The Evening Star's" Juliette Lewis) returns to her affluent San Francisco home after 10 years in a special school for challenged children. Her socially correct, uptight mother Elizabeth ("The First Wives Club's" Diane Keaton) and genial, laid back father Radley ("Smoke Signals'" Tom Skerritt) are at odds as to how much freedom to allow Carla, but she determinedly convinces them she's able to handle attending a vocational school. There she meets Danny ("Saving Private Ryan's" Giovanni Ribisi), also struggling with learning limitations, who works part time as a baker's assistant and harbors a passion for marching band music. As outsiders, the two naturally bond and, to Elizabeth's dismay, Carla is soon demanding her own apartment and all the independence that living alone implies. When one of her older sisters becomes engaged, it isn't long before Carla and Danny get ideas of their own.
   Scarcely an original plot, a freshness in lead performances by Lewis and Ribisi overcomes the script's predictable preciousness. Lewis is especially effective, mixing comedic timing and a guileless sincerity that charms and never cloys. Ribisi's Danny gets a bit more complex shadings, but overall the production fairly glows with upper-middle-class gloss and pleasantry, generously padded with chuckles. Supporting players fare less well than the leads, with the exception of Keaton, who shines in her immaculately styled edgy and frantic efforts to keep everything, including her fear, guilt and affection, under control. Hector Elizondo makes an impression in his brief bit as Danny's unofficial caretaker, but Skerritt, Juliet Mills as the family housekeeper, Carla's sisters and several country-club chums suffer from two dimensional portrayals.    Starring Juliette Lewis, Diane Keaton, Tom Skerritt and Giovanni Ribisi. Directed by Garry Marshall. Written by Garry Marshall and Bob Brunner. Produced by Mario Iscovich and Alexander Rose. A Buena Vista release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving sex related material. Running time: 129 min.
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