The title of John Sayles’ new movie, Go for Sisters, comes from a phrase that one of the characters, Fontayne, uses to remind her old high school friend, Bernice, that back in the day they were so close they were often taken for sisters. Something like, “We used to go for sisters.” The plot of the film is about Bernice’s attempt to track down her son, who has been taken hostage by a Chinese-Mexican people-smuggling gang, but the film is really about the relationship between Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) and Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) and the story of their very different lives. It has been many years since they last saw each other when they meet again at the beginning of the movie because Bernice has been assigned to be Fontayne’s parole officer. Bernice was always the good girl and has lived a fairly happy middle class life, while Fontayne has been in and out of prison because of an addiction to cocaine. When Bernice needs to enter the criminal underworld to find her son, she turns to Fontayne for help, and so their old friendship is re-ignited.
The third major character in the film is Freddy Suarez, an LA police detective who was forced to retire without benefits after he protected a partner who was breaking the law. Bernice finds hims through an old prison girlfriend of Fontayne’s, and she hires him to help them find her son. Suarez is played by Edward James Olmos, who also gets a producer credit, so maybe his interest was necessary for getting the financial backing to make the movie. He gets to play another interesting character with an interesting history, and Olmos is clearly having a good time with it. You might say he’s heavily invested in the role.
The story about the missing son — a troubled veteran of the war in Afghanistan — is mostly a sideshow. Sayles has always had an eye for stories about marginal people in America, and here he gives us three characters for the Obama era: two Black women (one of them a lesbian) and a Latino man whose father was an illegal immigrant. Likewise the world they travel through is unusual, from abandoned neighborhood houses used by drug dealers to the Tijuana Chinatown. The stories the characters tell are American stories: military service, drug addiction, prison, parole infractions, minimum wage jobs, illegal immigration, police corruption, rock’n’roll guitar (which Freddy learned how to play because his father told him he should learn to do something American).
Above all it’s the story of two women who help each other in a time of need. I was glad to spend the time watching them go for sisters.