The Sisters (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's notes

It is no simple task to adapt Chekhov's plays to modern settings. I think I can illustrate this point most easily by getting directly to the task at hand. Here is the conclusion to The Three Sisters:

(The three sisters stand close together supporting each other.)


MASHA. Listen, how the music is playing! They are going away from us, one of them has already gone, gone forever, and we are left here alone to start our lives again. We must go on living… We must go on living…

IRINA. (Leans her head on Olga's breast.) The time will come, and everyone will know the meaning of all this, why there is all this suffering, and there won't be any mysteries, but meanwhile, we must go on living… we must work, we must work! Tomorrow I will leave on my own, I will teach in a school and I'll give all my life to those perhaps who need it. It's already autumn, soon it will be winter, the snow will fall, but I will be working, I will go on working…

OLGA. (Embraces both sisters.) The music is playing so cheerfully, it's so full of high spirits that one wants to stay alive. Oh God, Oh God! The time will come when we will be gone forever, we will be forgotten, our faces, our voices, and even how many of us there were. But our suffering will be transformed into happiness for those who live after us, peace and contentment will cover the earth, and they will remember and bless with kind words all those who live now. My dearest, dearest sisters, our life is still not finished. We will go on living. The music is playing so happily, so cheerfully, that it seems, in just a little time, we will know why we live, and why there is all this suffering… If only we could know! If only we could know!


(The music becomes quieter and quieter; Kulygin, smiling and happy, brings Masha's hat and shawl; Andrey wheels out the pram with Bobik sitting in it.)


CHEBUTYKIN. (Sings quietly.) Ta-ra-ra boom-de-boom, I sat upon a stone… (Reads the paper.) It doesn't matter! It doesn't matter!

OLGA. If only we could know! If only we could know!


Be advised that there are some very long monologues earlier in the play which make the speeches above seem like Lee Marvin quotes. And did you notice that every time a character speaks he or she always repeats his last line! Now place yourself in the position of one who will create a modern interpretation on film. How will you go about it? After all, your first responsibility is to create credible characters and, well, let's face it, people don't talk like that. I don't know if people talked like that in Chekhov's time either, but the point is that his audiences accepted characters who spoke in such a manner. Critics did not ridicule him for his ridiculous dialogue. In fact, quite the opposite is true! Chekhov is considered a modernist who helped the great Stanislavsky, inventor of the modern acting style, to create a more realistic style of drama, with fewer stylized conventions, and with "natural acting" - absent the traditional rhetorical style of speechifying on stage. Chekhov wrote this play especially for Stanislavsky's troupe.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. If this was the modern, natural stuff, what must the stilted old-fashioned material have been like?

Oh, well, that doesn't concern us today. What does concern us is how a modern screenwriter can take dialogue like the lines above and present it so that modern audiences can relate to it as the interaction of contemporary people. The first decision that must be made is the nature of the prospective audience. Will it consist only of the most educated 5% of the population - the same group that could relate to it in Chekhov's day - or will it consist of mainstream filmgoers? In creating The Sisters, the playwright/screenwriter Richard Alfieri didn't seem to have this matter resolved in his own head. The characters often prattle on like overeducated dullards, the sorts of people who were never the brightest in their peer groups, and thus had to try extra hard to flaunt erudition and to take an arrogant attitude toward those with less education. The high-falutin' hostile banter is the sort of material which might be targeted directly at the Masterpiece Theater crowd, but the things they discuss are strictly dragged out of the Lifetime Network, slathered with a triple layer of melodrama, and aimed directly at the crowd which watches their soap operas with a few wine coolers.

Is it supposed to be a film for the few or a film for the many?

Your guess is as good as mine, but it ended up a film for the very few, because a good percentage of the few people who would be interested in a modern-day setting of The Three Sisters will be appalled by the fact that they seem to be watching The Young and the Restless with more hostility and much more flowery language. Chekhov's story of failed marriages, unfulfilled yearnings, and the winter ennui of the bourgeoisie gets a fresh injection of crystal meth addiction, unfulfilled lesbian romance, and father-daughter incest, added at the rate of one major tragedy per sister. Despite the story's tendency toward melodrama, I think it still might have worked if it had not drifted so far toward rhetoric and affectation. I think Tuna hit the nail right on the head in his comment that it is like a hyper-version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf with dozens of Martha and George clones sharpening their verbal claws and ripping each other apart.

The film has some good moments. It gripped me when the middle sister's true love had to return to his wife and kids, and I thought their farewell scene was played beautifully by Tony Goldwyn and Maria Bello, but the middle sister was so damned evil that it was impossible to really empathize with her pain. I enjoyed Rip Torn's interpretation of the kindly old drunken English Professor, partly because Torn inserted some notes of civility and human decency in an otherwise corrosive environment, and mostly because I found him to be the one believable character, even if his accent did keep disappearing and reappearing.

Overall, the film is trapped in multiple limbos: the limbo between great drama and tawdry melodrama, and the limbo between conventionalized 19th century theater and modern day screen realism. I can't really recommend it to anyone.



  • Commentary by director Arthur Allan Siedelman and writer Richard Alfieri
  • Widescreen anamorphic transfer


  • Maria Bello shows one breast and the side of her hips in a sex scenes.

  • Elizabeth Banks is seen in underwear which barely covers her bum.

  • Tony Goldwyn shows his butt in the sex scene with Bello.

Tuna's notes

The Sisters (2005) is based on writer Richard Alfieri's play by the same name, which was in turn based on Anton Chekhov's play, The Three Sisters. Actually, IMDb says it was "inspired by" Chekhov's work. I can explain it easily. Imagine Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf, but with four Elizabeth Taylors and half a dozen Richard Burtons. You get to play the parts of George Segal and Sandy Dennis. All three sisters teach at or attend the same university where their late father was the chancellor. The eldest is the new chancellor, a closet lesbian, and an emotional zero. The middle sister was abused by daddy, and is in a combative marriage to a shrink. In fact, her entire life is combative until an old assistant of her father shows up, and becomes her lover. The youngest sister is a student, and mainlines crystal meth. There is also a brother, who's married to an earthy woman with little education or tact, and a mind of her own.

The film consists of nearly two hours of verbal combat in the teacher's lounge, with a few excursions elsewhere for a wedding, an overdose, etc. The dialogue is the sort of thing students produce when required to use all of their spelling words in a sentence. Only Banks speaks in plain English.

I have difficulty imagining a bigger waste of several arguably talented performers and my time. Had Chekhov written dialogue this cumbersome and created characters this unpleasant, we would never have heard of him. Some may enjoy this. Many others, I suspect, will pretend to like it. For me, it was about as good a use of my time as waiting for a doctor's appointment. The film is technically competent, but a long, wordy, static piece full of unpleasant characters.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert 2/4


The People Vote ...

Miscellaneous ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a D. You'll see that D is the right grade if you read the descriptions, but it's a bit misleading. It is a perfectly competent movie, but we just can't think of any group we would recommend it to.

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