It is a dictum in Hollywood that the protagonist of a film is the audience's window into that specific film's world, and therefore should be the person most similar to the audience. Perhaps that is why the romantic comedy The Other Sister stars Juliette Lewis and Giovanni Ribisi as a retarded couple.

Hardly anyone in the American audience will recognize that they are being labeled "retarded." Most will enjoy the film for its effortless one-dimensionality and breezy lack of anything at all. The manipulation inherent in the characterizations, where cynical and filthy-rich non-'tards oppress the doe-eyed, downwardly mobile 'tards, will be eagerly soaked up by a spongy audience, who will love the film for its simple, life-affirming goodness and costly costuming. They will laugh with, not at, the wonderful 'tards, who are not so different from us after all, what with their brain-damaged struggles for financial and social freedom, their childlike joy at cute things like marching bands, and their fumbling, retarded sexual hijinx.

People will especially like Juliette Lewis' career-saving turn as a 'tard. Her performance will be praised for its brainless consistency and spot-on simplicity, boldly going where Hoffman, Keaton, and DiCaprio have gone before. Giovanni Ribisi gives a no-less-stunning 'tard portrayal, all blinking and drooling and clapping of hands.

Many critics will point out that the film doesn't shortchange us, that there are no punches pulled. Witness the brutal reality of these 'tards mocked by their classmates, and lost in the streets. Note the scene where Ribisi breaks down over his failing grades. Garry Marshall, it seems, really does want the viewer to realize that being a 'tard isn't all fun and games. It's like Oliver Stone's bold assertion in Platoon, that the Vietnam War didn't go so smoothly.

Support The Stranger