Katie (Carrie Coon) cannot believe no one got her father’s Do Not Resuscitate order signed before he slipped into unconsciousness. Christina (Elizabeth Olsen) is rifling through her old boxes to find a comforting Grateful Dead concert tee. Rachel (Natasha Lyonne) has way too many bets going and way too much pot to smoke to pay too much attention to whatever the hell her sisters-in-name-only have going on. A few steps away, down a short hallway and behind a thin door, lies their father (Jay O. Sanders), only the steady beep of the various machines that have infiltrated his home assuring us he’s still, for now, alive.

Other infiltrations play primary roles in Azazel Jacobs’ warm-hearted grief tale, “His Three Daughters,” and those include Katie and Christina, who have arrived to ease their dying father into the next stage of his existence while overlooking the contributions of their other sister, Rachel, who has been there all along. And yet none of them can really see each other clearly, at least at first, and this trio is stuck on the most basic details: Katie is too bitchy, Christina is too woo-woo, Rachel is too high. For a while, that’s what we see, too.

But Jacobs’ stellar casting instantly belies the care that goes into the entire film, and as he allows each of his stars to further melt into their roles, “His Three Daughters” doesn’t just grow, it grows more generous. As the trio — plus the various caregivers who cycle in and out of the apartment, from the no-nonsense nurse who still radiates energy to the hospice worker who can only say so much about what’s to come, plus a gobsmacking appearance from Rachel’s boyfriend, played by an incandescent Jovan Adepo — orbit each other in the apartment, it’s only natural that emotions will get heated. Not everyone’s coping mechanisms work: Katie’s need to control everything certainly doesn’t, but neither does Rachel’s weed-soaked avoidance. Christina? She’s off in a corner, doing yoga.

Jacobs’ script metes out details in ingenious ways — as the women bicker over writing their dad’s obituary, for instance, we find insight into their dad’s life and a further refining of the nature of their bonds — and mostly sidesteps feeling beholden to exposition. It’s a part of what they’re doing, what they’re enduring together, a necessary part of the experience that serves Jacobs’ restraint well. But who are they to each other? And who will they be after the inevitable passing of their father? “His Three Daughters” asks major questions but distills them down to this precise story, life’s biggest worries in jewel box miniature.

That relative smallness of story makes it easy to imagine Jacobs’ latest as a stage play: The apartment (one of those great, actual, believable Manhattan apartments) serves as the film’s primary location, with a few forays outside for Rachel to smoke on a bench or hit up a local bodega, easy enough to snip for the theater. Each of his stars gets a chance to shine — Coon is a firecracker from the start, Lyonne eases into one of the richest roles of her career, and Olsen is the film’s sneaky-great secret weapon — but they’re all at their best when forced into working together.

And these sisters require plenty of forcing. In the early half of the film, Jacobs and cinematographer Sam Levy favor medium shots that keep their subjects in the center of the frame, no one else visible. They are the main characters in their own stories. As the trio eventually reaches a place of possible acceptance and dare we say it, even affection, those constraints ease. One or two sisters slide into frame alongside the others. There is room for all of them. They are all a part of this story.

As the sisters — the daughters — start to come together, Jacobs lulls them with a last act bit of wish fulfillment, even fantasy, perhaps delusion. Initially, this twist feels at odds with the wonderfully lived-in, deeply realistic world Jacobs and his stars have built. And yet, it also offers the greatest argument for the strength of their bond. They are different people, main characters of their own story, but they have a shared dream: one in which all of them, all four of them, can be together for one more moment. Family is forever, even if it’s fleeting.

Grade: B+

“His Three Daughters” premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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