There are two kinds of people who will watch Perfect Sisters: There are the types who will think that all of the broken-house scenes that populate the first half of the film are over-the-top and excessive, and there are those who will know that this can be exactly how it can be in similar situations. By simply noticing how someone interprets this, you’re going to be able to tell a lot about their childhood (or the childhood of one of their friends, relatives, or someone else close to them).
The first half of Perfect Sisters involves watching the eponymous sisters’ alcoholic mother (Mira Sorvino) constantly falling off the rails. The sisters, Sandra and Beth (Abigail Breslin and Georgie Henley), are our leads, and we watch them have to continually deal with a less-than-ideal home life, all while attempting to maintain some sense of normalcy in their own lives. They can only count on one thing, and that’s one another. Yes, this lasts for about half the film, and to someone who never experienced something similar, it might feel over-the-top. I had no trouble believing it.
It’s at the halfway point when things get really interesting. A suggestion — half-joking — is made: What if mom were to die? The seeds were sown earlier, but it’s only at this point that it becomes a full-fledged idea. The girls get a couple of friends in on the idea. They plan it. They go through several different methods and weigh the pros and cons. We get to see these various murder ways play out. It’s here when the film really comes alive.
Before this point, Perfect Sisters was an emotionally compelling movie about a couple of kids dealing with a sick mother. It was predictable and we’ve seen it before, but it was still good. Watching the various coping methods and various situations the girls are put in is effective. But at this point the film takes a more whimsical turn. Elements of fantasy and dark comedy creep in, and the melodramatic tone is replaced by one that takes the film in a fresher direction.
It’s for about this third quarter that Perfect Sisters becomes truly great. I won’t spoil what happens, even though the film is based on a true story — with the names changed, to protect the … “innocent”(?) — but it does more with its premise than you’d initially think and because of the introduction of a more whimsical and comedic side, steers itself clear of being too dark and depressing for most viewers. And this is not happy subject matter; it’s just that sometimes, when facing awful situations, you have to joke about them to get through them.
So, for three quarters of Perfect Sisters you get a good-great movie. What about the final quarter, the conclusion? Well, it degenerates into a rushed courtroom drama that’s nowhere near as emotional or interesting as the film probably thinks. It happens too quickly and does very little to draw us in. Courtroom dramas on their own can take up a feature-length running time. What chance does one that’s only 20 minutes have? Not a lot, I’d wager, and this one serves as an unsatisfactory finale.
Part of this reason is probably because it somewhat separates the two girls, whose chemistry carries the film in even its dullest moments. Abigail Breslin and Georgie Henley really feel like sisters over the 90+ minutes for which Perfect Sisters runs, and that bond is inherently watchable. Even when the rest of the film starts to falter, watching the two sisters be together and bring us some true character moments keeps us entertained, and this only happens because the girls turn in some great performances.
Perfect Sisters is a very solid movie for about 75-80% of its running time. The unfortunate part about this is that the ending is where it falters, and that’s the last thing you’re going to experience before the credits, and it’s what you’re likely to take with you after it’s over. The first half is melodramatic and about the leads dealing with an alcoholic and neglectful mother, the third quarter involves planning (and maybe executing) her murder, and the finale is a dull courtroom drama. The two leads have a great chemistry and turn in good performances when alone, and the film is on the whole worth watching.