Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Complexity Makes My Blind Brother Worthwhile!

The Good: Impressive performances, Moments of character
The Bad: Erratic mood, Very simplistic plot
The Basics: My Blind Brother explores the life of two guilt-ridden people in their awkward interactions with a blind egomaniac.

Indie comedies have a tendency to be edgier in their subject matter than mainstream comedies. While mainstream comedies might have jokes that push the envelope of good taste - or outright destroy it - Independent films tend to have much more audacious concepts that have the potential to offend people who lack a sense of humor. My Blind Brother instantly appears to be that type of movie, as it follows a man who is treated as a tool by his family and the recovering narcissist he hooks up with.

My Blind Brother features Adam Scott as the titular blind brother to Bill, Robbie, who is pretty much an asshole. Robbie is self-involved and surprisingly demanding; he is essentially a narcissistic local celebrity, who happens to be blind. It would be tough to make a mainstream comedy where a person with a disability it treated as an overt jerk. Robbie is a user, who is as superficial as a sighted person and My Blind Brother approaches the character with a sense of realistic complexity and that is surprisingly refreshing.

Robbie is a blind athlete who runs a charity marathon, tethered to his brother Bill. While Robbie plans a charity swim, Bill feels used and neglected. Going out to a bar where a wake is going on for a musician there, Bill meets Rose, who feels responsible for the death of her boyfriend. The two bond over how terrible they each believe themselves to be and they hook up. Rose leaves in the morning, determined to turn her life around after inadvertently leading Fred to his death. Rose's new volunteerism leads her to become Robbie's new exercise partner.

When Robbie starts making moves on Rose, Bill gets reasonably jealous. Bill goes so far as to try to set up an incident that backfires when Robbie punches the mark intended for Bill to stand up to. When Robbie's charity swim is blocked by the Coast Guard, Bill proposes they go out for a night on the town. Rose sets Bill up with her roommate, Francie, which turns into an a disaster for all involved. As Bill tries to express his feelings to Rose, Robbie becomes resolved to do the swim regardless of the legality of the event.

My Blind Brother frequently uses awkward humor to get laughs and it is funny when it wants to be. The rest of the time, My Blind Brother is a fairly dramatic character study, with a protagonist who is unforgiving and often mean. The most compelling scenes, though, frequently occur between Rose and her roommate Francie. Francie speaks as the voice of reason, essentially demystifying the guilt Rose feels in her budding relationship with Robbie. Francie is the embodiment of taking people as they are and she sees that Rose is motivated by a ridiculous sense of guilt to overcompensate in befriending Robbie.

The meat of My Blind Brother is the relationship between Rose and Bill. Rose and Bill have a lot in common and Bill actually expresses interest in Rose and her life. Bill tries to express himself earnestly to Rose and feels reasonably rejected given that Rose says she is not looking for a relationship, but then gets into one with Robbie. When the group goes out on a date, the scene is difficult, real and the perfect mix of intense, unpleasant, and hilarious.

Nick Kroll is amazing in My Blind Brother. Kroll has had supporting roles in a surprising number of projects that I have seen, but never quite broke out. In My Blind Brother he shows off serious dramatic chops and the ability to act surprisingly well with his eyes. Kroll is shockingly good when he performs by simply emoting without speaking and his role as Bill in My Blind Brother is enough to make viewers legitimately wonder how he has not had a break-out role before this. The simple act of Kroll putting on a shirt generates some of the biggest laughs in My Blind Brother and the range he exhibits in the film is impressive.

Adam Scott is good as Robbie, but Scott has played assholes plenty of times. Scott plays Robbie as a toned-down version of his character from Step Brothers (reviewed here!) and while he does not go over-the-top with his performance the way he did in Step Brothers, he uses a lot of the same comedic deliveries inMy Blind Brother. Scott is good in My Blind Brother, but he is supporting Kroll's mastery.

While is it impossible not to feel sorry for Kroll's Bill and Zoe Kazan's Francie, Jenny Slate plays the part of Rose with an ambiguity that is actually interesting. Rose is up-front with Bill about who and what she is and Slate plays the balance between guilty and narcissistic well. Slate's peak in portraying Rose comes in a very simple moment, imploring Bill at they row across the lake and she manages to make Rose a completely contrasted character from her role on Parks And Recreation. As Rose reaches out to Fred's parents, Slate is able to present a scene that is memorable and showcases her range.

My Blind Brother is sufficiently complex enough to be enjoyable to watch, but the longer I watched, the more I realized that I was enjoying the technical aspects of Sophie Goodhart's film as opposed to finding myself immersed in it. Robbie is a character that is virtually impossible to become emotionally attached to and while Bill and Rose make for an interesting pairing, they are two deeply hurt people who seem entirely unable to live with themselves, much less each other. So, while we might root for their relationship to work out, if it does, the viewer suspects that they would be codependently propping one another up, as opposed to exhibiting a romance for the ages. Goodhart's direction is fine (shaky-cam notwithstanding) and she gets good performances out of her cast, but the story is not one told using truly gripping characters. When Bill starts to develop and shine, the film pivots away from him and it loses momentum.

The result is a dramedy that does a lot right and that I am glad I saw, but becomes a much tougher sell both to recommend and to want to rewatch. It was very easy to analyze the quality of the performances in My Blind Brother, for example, because I was aware I was watching great performances. The roles, not so wonderful; the portrayal of those characters, amazing. In a way, My Blind Brother is the opposite of typecasting or casting a celebrity for a minor role; the cast is not made up of instantly-recognizable celebrities and the roles are not the most compelling, but the performers play the hell out of them and make them captivating to watch.

The result is a film where the parts make the whole appear greater than it is. My Blind Brother is impressive in a way that is not enduring or rewatchable, even though it sets up its principle performers for roles that could be.

For other movies currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Flock Of Dudes
Cardboard Boxer
Other People
The Whole Truth
Pete's Dragon
Suicide Squad


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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