I was introduced to Lynn Shelton’s films by accident a few years ago. I was in Amsterdam on my own, feeling a bit lost and in need of some cinema-therapy. I found myself at a cute art-deco cinema and was recommended Your Sister’s Sister. I went in having only seen the film’s standard issue rom-com poster and came out with my spirits high and my faith in film restored.
Shelton started out in the film industry as an editor and made a series of experimental films before she wrote and directed her first film, We Go Way Back (2006). She’s directed six features since then, writing all but one of them, and she’s directed episodes of television shows like Mad Men, Master of None and The Mindy Project.
Her films tackle all manner of stories and issues, but all have that same Shelton feeling. They’re character-driven and have compact plots. They borrow locations, have small crews and feel natural. They’re low key but have big hearts.
I love her films because they turn familiar themes inside out. In Humpday, two straight male friends’ dynamic of one-upmanship leads them to have sex on camera for an amateur porn festival. It sounds like the plot of a crass buddy movie, but Shelton’s film is a subtle, insightful and very funny look at male friendship and macho pride.
Your Sister’s Sister has all the makings of a tried-and-tested rom-com – potential love triangle, gorgeous countryside setting… but it subverts conventions, focusing on sibling relationships, grief, and friendship.
Shelton has a knack for creating characters that are real and awkward and messy. They aren’t always nice. They are richly drawn and watching them feels like you’re peeking into real people’s lives, like you’re overhearing a conversation on a train or people watching in a cafe. Shelton allows them to fumble through life and keeps the interest up by making them so believable.
Shelton is drawn to relationships, the ins and outs of people trying to make a connection, and that’s why I enjoy her films so much.