Sisters & Brothers captures the sibling dynamic

By Ljudmila Petrovic

TIFF 2011 favourite premieres theatrically in Vancouver, Victoria, and Toronto cinemas

When my little sister was eight years old, she told me that she hated me. She was also a constant source of annoyance, taking my clothes without permission, and pretending to cry to get our parents’ pity. Despite our track record, she’s my favourite person in the world, and the person that I feel the closest to.

The sibling relationship is a complex and chaotic one, which is exactly what Canadian filmmaker-slash-screenwriter Carl Bessai’s Sisters&Brothers tries to address. The last of a trilogy that focuses on familial relationships, Sisters&Brothers follows four pairs of siblings as they deal with their turbulent relationships.

Dustin Milligan and Cory Monteith, of Glee fame, play a pair of brothers that deal with the effects of one brother’s rising fame as a young celebrity living in L.A. There is Louise, who is facing difficulties caring for her schizophrenic brother. Rebellious teenager Sarah deals with meeting a half-sister at 17. And neurotic Maggie, who goes to visit her stepsister, an aspiring actress whom she resents for a number of reasons, ends up being dragged onto a road trip with her and a guy she met in a bar, who promised her a role if she went to L.A.

Bessai gave a lot of freedom to his actors to portray sisters and brothers in the way in which they have experienced them. He introduced a general story idea coming in, and would sit down with the actors in each story and hash out the details together. The cast often brought their personal backstories to the script. Camille Sullivan, who plays Maggie, has two sisters herself, and feels that Sisters&Brothers perfectly captures the relationship between siblings. “You have licenses with your siblings that you don’t normally have with anybody else,” she said.

The film portrays sibling relationships as turbulent, difficult, and oftentimes hurtful, but anyone with a sibling can see through the bicker and banter and into the bond that the characters share. The end of the film has been contentious among reviewers. After it was screened at the most recent Toronto International Film Festival, the only criticism that almost every review of the film had in common was, in fact, that the ending was too predictably clean and happy. All the pairs of siblings put aside their differences, and the final scenes are of the brothers and sisters laughing together. Sullivan begs to differ from the film critics. She explained that the arc of the plot shares the dynamic of sibling relationships: all throughout the film, Maggie fought incessantly with her sister, but the ending showed them laughing together. “No matter what happens, it doesn’t matter in the end,” she said of sibling tensions, “That’s what really spoke to me.”

The storylines are spliced with individual aside interviews that let the audience see how the characters really feel about their situations and their siblings, as well as comic book-style transitions that add some spark to the serious and tense moments in the film. Happy ending criticism aside, Sisters&Brothers captures the essence of sibling relationships by placing them in a variety of obstacles, such as mental illness or jealousy. The interaction between the actors is dynamic, and Bessai’s direction nails the transition between stories.  Furthermore, as if there wasn’t enough, the movie was filmed entirely in Vancouver — except for Maggie and her sister’s road trip to L.A., which was really a day trip to Squamish — and stars a predominantly Canadian cast, something that makes this film all the sweeter for Vancouver natives.


Sisters&Brothers is now showing at International Village Cinemas.