The Other Sister

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

After receiving a well-earned certification from a sheltered boarding school, Carla Tate (Juliette Lewis), an ambitious and mildly mentally challenged young woman, returns home to her over-protective and slightly snobby mother Elizabeth (Diane Keaton). Elizabeth seems to act as if she is embarrassed about her daughter’s disability. During family discussions, Elizabeth adopts an uneasy attitude. Her father Radley (Tom Skerritt) is a dentist and recovering alcoholic. Carla’s ambition is to seek more independence from her family by earning a diploma from a trade school. When Carla meets another mentally challenged student, Daniel McMann (Giovanni Ribisi), they become friends and soon fall in love. Envying Danny’s freedom, Carla convinces her parents she is capable of living on her own and moves into her own apartment. After a time, Carla and Danny become sexually active together.

Danny’s independence is financially compromised when his wealthy and emotionally detached father abruptly stops sending subsistence money. Danny begins to realize that the independence he enjoyed comes with a staggering cost. Danny gets drunk, then seeks solace and insight (and a joyride in a vintage Ford Mustang convertible) from his landlord and friend, Ernie (Hector Elizondo).

During a Christmas party at the country club, nervous about his personal lot, Daniel drinks too much to build up his courage to declare his love for Carla, also telling everyone about their first time making love. A humiliated Carla bursts into tears, screaming at everyone to stop laughing at her. Although Daniel did not intend to embarrass Carla, she nonetheless refuses to see him. Over time, Carla realizes she still loves Danny and wants to see him again despite her mother’s advising her otherwise. At her sister Caroline’s (Poppy Montgomery) wedding, Danny surprises Carla by showing up at the church and asking Carla to marry him, in a scene mimicking The Graduate, the couple’s favorite film.

Everyone supports their wishes except Elizabeth, who is unsure Danny can take care of himself, let alone Carla, who becomes angry, telling her mother she is sick of her dominance and doubt and is also sick of her treating her like an embarrassment. Radley and her sisters Heather (Sarah Paulson) and Caroline support her decision, and the wedding is planned. At first, Elizabeth is determined not to attend; but Radley admonishes her, saying he will walk Carla down the aisle, and finally she relents. Outside the church, Danny surprises Carla with a marching band playing a song from The Music Man… and they are chauffeured away to their honeymoon in Ernie’s prized Mustang.


As my college days were coming to a close, I met a girl who loved The Other Sister. To this day, I am still on the fence about this film. There are times that I like it and find it a cute little love story, but then there are days when it is just too much for me. What will today bring, I wonder? Let’s find out, shall we?

What is this about?

Carla Tate (Juliette Lewis) has an independent streak a mile wide. Trouble is, she’s mentally handicapped, and her overprotective parents (Diane Keaton and Tom Skerritt) have misgivings about her getting her own apartment and pursuing a relationship with another mentally challenged person (Giovanni Ribisi). An emotional tour de force for Lewis, The Other Sister is ultimately a triumphant story of perseverance in the face of long odds.

What did I like?

Challenge. When was the last time we saw a character that is mentally challenged carry a film? The last one that I can remember is Blankman, which really wasn’t that great. The filmmakers took a chance with this, and it paid off. Not only do these actors, Juliette Lewis and Giovanni Ribisi, come off as believable in their roles, they do so with respect to those with challenges. Kudos to them and their hard work in researching the parts for accuracy.

Give love a chance. Love can be a complicated thing, don’t you think? One thing is for certain, though, everyone deserves a chance to fall in love. Whether you’re an interracial couple living in some backwood town in the south where they won’t let you marry, a gay couple who seem to be treated like second class citizens, if not worse, by government and maybe even their own family and “friends” or, in the case of this film, a couple of sweet individuals whose only crime is being a little different from everyone else. This is not the kind of love story we normally see, and perhaps that is why it is so captivating. We are drawn in as a result of its novelty, as it were, only to become attached to these characters as they struggle for acceptance and deal with normal day to day relationship issues.

Music, man. The Music Man is one of my favorite musicals. Being a band geek for my whole life, marching band music is a genre that I am very familiar with. Who would have thought that  Ribisi’s character in some ways would be a reflection of myself. I think he may love the marching tunes a bit more than me, though. I applaud the choice to include such music in the film. Not many people get, or take, the chance to listen to it anymore, plus it was done very tastefully and not shoved down the audience’s throat.

What didn’t I like?

Mommy, dearest. This is not the kind of film that has an antagonist, but if there was one it would most definitely be Diane Keaton’s character. She is the kind of overbearing, control everything about your life mother that we all dread. A few tweaks to her persona and she could have rivaled the mom in Mommie Dearest. Ok, maybe not that much, but for the tone of this film, her villainous, for lack of a better term, persona didn’t seem to fit. She is the kind of character that needs to be developed over the course of a film, and I’m not really sure she was.

Sister issue. Keeping in mind that this was made in the previous century, I shouldn’t get too bent out of shape about this, but Sarah Paulson’s character keeps hinting that she is in a relationship with another woman. We see her in bed with this girl in a scene where she is talking to Lewis’ character. What’s the problem? They bring this up and how her parents won’t let her bring her beloved to the wedding, but that’s as far as they go with it. For me, if you’re going to bring that up, go somewhere with it. The same could be said for the little temper tantrum Poppy Montgomery had about being the middle sister. To me, that seemed like there was an issue there, as well.

Money and grades. Poor Daniel, he fails a test (or maybe it was a class) and his obviously rich father cuts him off and tells him he needs to go live with his mother. Typical plot device for a film like this, right? I realize that money is a big issue, but I believe they could have come up with something better. Sometimes less is more. Just use the grades as a punishment. I don’t know, maybe I’m just overreacting to this.

Final verdict on The Other Sister? This is a genuinely cute film that could have gone a variety of different directions, given the material. The filmmakers chose to use mentally challenged individuals as the leads, but their disability is not the focal point, their love and connection is. That is why this film works. Do I recommend it? Yes, if you’re in the mood for a cutesy flick to watch with your significant other, this is one to check out!

4 out of 5 stars


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