Jacobs, who also wrote the film, starts by very clearly defining his three leads. Katie (Carrie Coon) is a very Brooklyn mother and the eldest sibling who feels the need to take control as her father is entering the end stage of life. She’s constantly discussing plans, including ensuring a DNR gets signed soon. Conversely, Rachel (Natasha Lyonne, doing career-best work), who has been taking care of Dad for some time now and spends most of her time gambling on sports when she’s not getting high, seems to be one of those people who doesn’t exactly plan ahead, which allows Katie to openly judge her. Finally, there’s the sister from out of town, Christina (Elizabeth Olsen), who talks about her daughter constantly and does yoga in the living room.
At first, these three look like clichés, but Jacobs’ script gradually and brilliantly blurs those lines, revealing how these simple definitions are inadequate. We have a habit of putting loved ones in defined boxes—one of my favorite lines in a script full of them is when Katie says, “No one will let me be anyone else.” Is she the obsessively responsible one because that’s just who she is or because she’s forced to be by the way people see her?
Without forced revelations and entirely through dialogue in a film that seldom leaves one apartment, these three sisters gently break out of the boxes into which they’ve been placed. It feels so true, vulnerable, and pure. It made me think not only of loved ones I’ve lost but those still in my life who I want to know better. I should call my sister.
While “His Three Daughters” hums with genuine characters, Kristin Scott Thomas’ “North Star” does the opposite of that. The excellent actress-turned-director has had a career filled with challenging roles, but she doesn’t give her talented ensemble here anything to work with, saddling her characters with obvious issues to be discussed and resolved before the credits roll. Most depressingly, it’s a film about three women that almost solely defines them by their partners and/or children. Everyone here, and the audience, deserve better.