I admit that I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for many of the film’s directed by Carl Reiner. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Oh God!, but I remember it being one I watched a few times as a kid. I’ve always loved his collaborations with Steven Martin…The Jerk, The Man with Two Brains, and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. And then we have Summer School, which was a cable TV staple during my teenage years and is an 80’s classic in my opinion. As we moved into the 90’s, though, Reiner’s films were not quite as memorable as his earlier work. Case in point, our film today…1990’s Sibling Rivalry.
Kirstie Alley stars as Marjorie Turner…a woman who has a good life but is a bit bored. Her husband, Harry (Scott Bakula), is a successful doctor. In fact, his entire family (including the likes of Carrie Fisher, Frances Sternhagen, and John Randolph) are doctors…and a bit snooty. Things might not be so bad, though, if Harry were occasionally interested in sex, but alas. Even though Marjorie’s sister, Jeanine (Jami Gertz) suggests she should have an affair, she stay faithful. That is…until one day when she meets a mysterious stranger (Sam Elliott) at the grocery store and, before you know it, the two have spent the afternoon together at a hotel. Once the deed is done, though, Marjorie find the stranger has suffered a heart attack and died.
Marjorie quickly slips out of the hotel, running into a hapless window blinds salesman named Nicholas Meany (Bill Pullman), and dropping her wallet in the process. When Nick tries to install his blinds in the hotel room he finds the stranger’s body, thinking he killed him by clunking him in the head with the blinds. He then contacts Marjorie, using her driver’s license, thinking the man is her husband. The two then meet and try to make it look like the stranger committed suicide. Meanwhile, Jeanine starts dating Nick’s cop brother (Ed O’Neil), oh…and did I mention that the stranger is actually Harry’s brother, who Marjorie has never met?
It seems like Sibling Rivalry was intended to be a 90’s take on the screwball comedies of the 30’s and 40’s. It actually starts pretty strong. Its initial premise is pretty funny and is helped by a more than capable cast. I found myself quite amused with the first half of the film. But then things take a strange turn toward being a bit more serious…and I don’t think the film realizes that it has shifted. When we get to the moments where, SPOILER ALERT, Nick realizes that his brother who he hasn’t seen in years died while having a fling with his wife…you kind of feel sorry for the poor guy. The movie then starts to really dwell on the marital difficulties that brought us to this point and it all starts to feel a bit like an episode of Dr. Phil. Both Alley and Bakula start to play the second half of the film very straight, which kind of makes us wonder what happened to the madcap comedy we were watching 20 minutes ago.
Even so, the performances in first half of the film certainly make it enjoyable enough. When I hear Kirstie Alley’s name these days I tend to think about things like Dancing with the Stars or tabloid stories about her fluctuating weight. I forget that she really is a skilled comedic actress…shame on me. She’s quite funny here. I also really liked Jami Gertz as the quirky sister who’s obsessed with aquariums. Bill Pullman has a few funny moments as well, but he may be overdoing the doofus routine a bit in this one. His tone just doesn’t seem to quite mesh with the rest of the cast. I’m not saying it’s a bad performance, but it feels a bit out-of-place. Of course, one of my favorite cast members is Sam Elliott. His part in the film is very brief, but he just oozes cool and his moustache is only slightly less epic than it was in Tombstone.
When all is said and done, Sibling Rivalry is a mixed bag. I laughed a fair amount, and I get what Carl Reiner was going for with it. I mean, given Reiner’s background in classic comedy, if any director could’ve pulled off a screwball comedy for the 90’s, it’s him. It’s just a bit disappointing that he only partially succeeds.
NOTE: Sibling Rivalry was recently released on DVD and Blu Ray by Olive Films. Big thanks go to them for sending a copy for review our way!