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REVIEW: John Sayles' 'Go for Sisters' is the rare female buddy film

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Remember that "Thelma and Louise" was groundbreaking in the sense that it was a buddy film starring two females on a road trip? Since then, this genre, particularly in the thriller context, has largely been unseen until "Go for Sisters" (2013, English, Spanish). Starring LisaGay Hamilton ("The Practice") as Bernice, a hard-nosed parole officer, Yolanda Ross ("Treme") as Fontayne, a struggling parolee, and Edward James Olmos ("Miami Vice," "Battlestar Galactica") as Freddy, a beleaguered ex-cop, the story centers on a journey as the three search for Bernice's missing son Rodney (McKinley Belcher III) in Mexico.

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The film opens with Bernice encountering a parolee with a plausible story to explain why she was consorting with criminals. Bernice doesn't buy the story, and sends her to a hearing, commenting "I listen to people sugarcoat their bullshit all day." Next, Bernice's former high school friend - Fontayne - shows up. Bernice tells her she has to assign her to another agent, but listens to Fontayne's story. While she suspects Fontayne's story may be BS, she decides to give her a break. Fontayne offers to help her out if she needs anything in the future, but Bernice looks at her dismissively.

Later, the scenes cut to each woman at her home. Their modest apartments are shot in warm sepia and amber tones, but a picture is painted of two lonely women.

Bernice learns that Rodney is suspected of being involved in human trafficking from Mexico. Though her son has been alienated from her since he returned from the Middle East, Bernice simply wants to find him and keep him safe; one of his partners in crime, Fuzzy, has just been found murdered. Bernice has to turn to Fontayne to begin investigating the world of criminals from the inside.

Entwined within the story is Sayles' critical eye on injustice and poverty. This spirit infuses most of Sayles' films and his writings. An indie director, Sayles is best known for, I suspect, "The Brother from Another Planet" (1984) "Matewan" (1987)(one of my favorites), "Passion Fish" (1992, another female buddy film of sorts), and "Lone Star" (1996). He is also a prolific writer, my two favorites being "Union Dues" and "A Moment in the Sun."

Fontayne agrees to help find Rodney. These women begin to switch roles, if you will. Bernice bends the law in order to find her kidnapped son. Meanwhile, Fontayne is appalled that Bernice is moving her back into the world of drug dealer and thugs. She is struggling to do the right thing. Bernice tries to assure her: "I will get you out of this clean. I promise."

Freddy, meanwhile, weathered and burdened with macular degeneration, wants to feel important. Retirement has not served him well, though he seems to have a loving wife who is worried about his journey. He is Bernice's and Fontayne's entry to Tijuana, where the trio encounters an odd assortment of thugs, murderers, traffickers, and other dangers, all while searching for Rodney.

This rich character study takes place in settings that brim with authenticity. The NA meeting rings true as people share their stories, as does the journey to Tijuana, capturing the colors, sounds, and rhythm of this border town. The scenes in the desert highlight the barren but beautiful nature of that locale.

A glance at those who pay to cross the border under risky and even deadly conditions is done with empathy, not judgment. Small roles by Harold Perrineau as Wiley, Isaiah Washington as Vernell, and Hector Elizondo as Jorge, add to the richness of the characters in this film.

In the end, as Bernice, Fontayne, and Freddy return to their lives in Southern California, there is a bit of hope. Bernice remarks to Fontayne, "I don't have that many friends," and they make plans for the evening.

In Portland, this film is screening exclusively at the Living Room Theaters, 341 SW Tenth Avenue, right near Powell's City of Books. Tickets can be purchased online or at the theater box office. What's cool about this theater, aside from the great menu, yummy caramel popcorn, and a variety of coffees, teas, and alcoholic beverages, is that you can select your own seat. Check out their website for further info on screening times. Tickets range from $5 (Mondays and Tuesdays generally) to $12 (for 3D films).

Sources: "Go for Sisters" website, IMDb website, screening of the film

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