The Sisters

on April 14, 2006 by Annlee Ellingson
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A contemporary adaptation of Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters," this ensemble drama, scripted and based on Richard Alfeiri's similarly titled stageplay, modernizes not only setting and dialogue but scenario: A snobby family of Manhattan academics, the titular siblings have clung together since the death of their father. The elder two -- Olga (Mary Stuart Masterson), a university administrator on the fast-track to chancellor, and Marcia (Maria Bello), an acerbic, depressive society wife -- have spun tales about an idyllic childhood for baby sister Irene (Erika Christensen), still in college. Meanwhile, brother Andrew (Alessandro Nivola) courts commoner Nancy (Elizabeth Banks), of whom they don't approve, and rival professors -- sardonic politico Gary Sokol (Eric McCormack) and timid philosopher David Turzin (Chris O'Donnell) -- vie for Irene's affection to a tragic end.

It's little wonder that director Arthur Allan Seidelman was able to assemble such an embarrassment of riches for a cast to fill these juicy roles. While the source material already contains its share of scandal in the form of marital infidelity, scribe Alfeiri here assigns each of his three main characters a topical trait, whether it be drug use, childhood molestation or homosexuality. And they're all painfully self-aware and -analytical, as only intellectuals can be, in a way that's discomforting yet amusing.

Yet the execution grows tiresome. Aside from a few well-played scenes -- one in which Rip Torn's Doctor lays his hand on the heart of the unrelentingly sarcastic Sokol and says, "Your mother must have dropped you when you were a baby and something broke in here" -- Seidelman, who also directed "The Sisters" onstage, has retained the limited number of sets and theatrical acting style of the boards that are ill fits onscreen. Coupled with unnatural pauses, emotional moments that are overplayed (Sokol whispers, "I love you" to an unconscious Irene when it's already abundantly clear), a heavy-handed score and flashbacks that mark the passage of time, it's a tedious experience of otherwise promising material and covetous cast. Starring Elizabeth Banks, Maria Bello, Erika Christensen, Stephen Culp, Tony Goldwyn, Mary Stuart Masterson, Eric McCormack, Alessandro Nivola, Chris O'Donnell and Rip Torn. Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman. Written by Richard Alfeiri. Produced by Matthew Rhodes and Judd Payne. An Arclight release. Drama. Rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 113 min.

Tags: Elizabeth Banks, Maria Bello, Erika Christensen, Stephen Culp, Tony Goldwyn, Mary Stuart Masterson, Eric McCormack, Alessandro Nivola, Chris O'Donnell, Rip Torn, Arthur Allan Seidelman, adaptation, Anton Chekhov, Three Sisters, Richard Alfeir, Manhattan, family, sisters, death
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