Juliette Lewis plays the mentally retarded sister with a sweetness and innocence that simply bowls you over. She is so endearing and grounded that she may have done some pioneering work in The Other Sister for her fellow actresses. (What would be a proper feminine form of "fellow" to put in front of the female actor?)
In contrast, Diane Keaton is a socially too advanced mother whose status is affected by her three daughters, one of whom is Carla who is just coming home from an institution where she has been for ten years, learning to cope with the world. Of course, the thing that surprises everybody - the audience as well as the fictional family - is how aware Carla is of her own limitations. But she is also aware of her abilities and her desires, and getting her mother to acknowledge them is the greatest challenge Carla will ever face.
Giovanni Ribisi is an extraordinary young actor who seems to take flight in scenes as the handicapped Danny with Lewis. The two of them relate so naturally and yet within character that we want to trust them to live on their own - without the kind of supervision that would stultify them as "retarded." Their scenes together make us see how simple and natural sex is - and of course, how it can be misinterpreted. Carla has learned at her school how to deal with somebody who wants to touch her, and the loud no and raised hand comes across as very funny and effective - and a relief to her mother to know that Carla knows a little bit about the world.
The problem both Carla and Danny face is their lack of inhibition and the natural pain that rises with sexual knowlege and sexual misunderstanding. This is a brave little movie with a heart so big, it ought to spin off into a TV series. At about the point in the film when you say to yourself, yes, I really like these characters and I'd tune in on them, the movie suddenly loses its steam and becomes one of those Diane Keaton vehicles that sort of splinters around her self-consciousness into a picnic of fun and a monkey house of logic. The movie doesn't want to end, so it becomes a kind of parade or flurry...anyway, it doesn't have a structured ending.
Meanwhile, see it with someone you love.
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