Movie Review: Go for Sisters
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) has a tough job in a bad neighborhood in Los Angeles, where she has to listen to lots of sob stories, excuses and lies. She’s a parole officer, and she’s world-weary. She’s also worried about her alienated son, Rodney, who has disappeared, and she keeps leaving him unreturned phone messages in between seeing parolees.
Then Bernice realizes that her next meeting is with a new parolee, a recovering drug addict named Fontayne (Yolonda Ross). With brusque efficiency, Bernice tells Fontayne to pee in a cup, then looks at her records and notes that she has violated her parole by riding in a car that was being driven by a drug user and then was stopped by police. Fontayne asks how she’s supposed to avoid such people when they’re everywhere in her neighborhood. And slowly it becomes apparent that Bernice used to be best friends with Fontayne — before Fontayne started dating Bernice’s boyfriend back in high school.
So begins “Go for Sisters,” the latest character-driven tale from longtime independent filmmaker John Sayles, who is probably best known for the 1996 classic “Lone Star.” The odd title of Sayles’ latest has to do with the relationship between Bernice and Fontayne, who were so similar-looking in their youth that they could “go for sisters.”
“Sisters” won’t receive as much critical acclaim as “Lone Star,” in part because it doesn’t have the narrative propulsion of the Texas border murder mystery. But it has the typical Sayles trademark — a knack for character development in complex socioeconomic worlds that tend to be stereotyped by Hollywood.
“Sisters” breaks ground in another way, as well. It’s one of the few, serious African-American female buddy movies of recent years.
Yes, Bernice and Fontayne become buddies again, when Bernice declines to make an issue of Fontayne’s parole violation. And when Bernice later learns that her missing son is a suspect in a murder, she asks for Fontayne’s help. After all, Fontayne has the savvy street smarts that the straight-laced Bernice does not.
Both women discover that they’re in over their heads fairly quickly. So they turn to a former police officer, Freddy Suarez (Edward James Olmos), who was fired from the force and lost his pension. Freddy is going blind, but he desperately needs money to help save his house, and when Bernice gives him $2,000, the three of them go in search of the missing son.
As it turns out, the missing young man has become involved in smuggling people into the United States, but in a twist, he has been smuggling Asians — not Mexicans. And when Bernice, Fontayne and Freddy go to Mexico to figure out what’s going on, “Go for Sisters” undergoes a tonal shift. Although Sayles’ screenplay shows incredible empathy for African-Americans, it seems to be tone-deaf when dealing with Asians. One scene involving an Asian crime boss named Mother Han (Elizabeth Sung) plays completely into the dragon-lady cliché.
Still, the performances of Hamilton, Ross and Olmos keep the movie afloat, even though the narrative fails to gather the requisite steam of a thriller. Fans of Sayles will see some of the director’s classic touches, but “Go for Sisters” is unlikely to be considered one of his best.