IT'S EASY TO BE prejudiced against The Other Sister. For one thing, its director, Garry Marshall, created such awful but enormously popular cheesies as Pretty Woman, Beaches, and TV's Happy Days. For another, it's yet another movie in which someone with a mental handicap represents the inner child, a simpler way of life, the superiority of emotion over intellect, or some other equally suspect message. In this particular serving, Carla (Juliette Lewis) returns home after 10 years at a school for the mentally challenged. Her mother, Elizabeth (Diane Keaton), immediately wants to take over where the school left off and manage her daughter's life, but Carla wants independence. Will Carla demonstrate to her overprotective mother that she can make her own choices in life and love? It will surprise no one that the answer is yes.
The Other Sister
directed by Garry Marshall
starring Juliette Lewis, Diane Keaton, Tom Skerritt, Giovanni Ribisi
opens 2/25 at Metro, others
The surprise is that, a few missteps aside, The Other Sister manages to avoid the vast puddle of schmaltzy sentiment characteristic of its genre.
It's the actors, more than the script, who make the movie work. Juliette Lewis breaks away from her history of mannered mumbling and fumbling to give a direct, unfussy performance that makes some painfully obvious dialogue seem clean and honest. Diane Keaton makes Elizabeth a downright prickly personality with mixed motivations for her protectiveness; while she loves her daughter, she's also embarrassed by Carla. Though much of The Other Sister follows Carla's relationship with a mentally challenged boy named Danny (Giovanni Ribisi), the mother-daughter conflict is the movie's core. Keaton and Lewis make these characters individual people rather than symbols or icons. Their struggle hurts.
The Other Sister is not a significant movie. It's not going to open anyone's eyes about the possibilities of film or the sorrows of the mentally challenged or much of anything at all—but it is a decent, well-intentioned movie with more emotional depth than anyone would expect. Sometimes, that's enough to make a movie worth seeing.