Jenny Slate in My Blind Brother
Nick Kroll of The Kroll Show fame stars as Bill, a sort of schlubby, vaguely depressed guy who, at the beginning of the movie, is completing a marathon with his athletic brother, Robbie (Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation). There’s a catch, though—Robbie is blind. And there’s another catch—he’s kind of a huge dick. Robbie is selfish, vain, shallow, and the brand of bore who goes on and on about his fitness routine. He’s objectively terrible, and Scott, though best known for playing sweetly cynical Ben Wyatt on Parks & Rec, is GREAT at playing dickheads, so Robbie is a Grade A dickhead. But his blindness means everyone around him is insanely conciliatory and forgiving of every bad personality trait because he’s just so brave!
This is, frankly, a huge gamble on the part of first time writer/director of Sophie Goodhart. There are probably a fair number of people who will read the premise of the movie and write it off as offensive, but the three main characters are all deeply flawed people, and Robbie is no better or worse than any of them.
Kroll and Scott are joined by Jenny Slate—making this a kind of Parks & Rec reunion tour—as Rose, the object of the brothers’ affection. Bill meets her first, but after a one night stand she won’t give him her phone number, and then later she becomes involved with Robbie. Speaking of unlikeable female characters, Rose is pretty unlikeable as she is a bad combination of selfish and weak-willed. Plagued by guilt after her boyfriend dies while she’s trying to break up with him, Rose doesn’t want to risk jinxing Robbie, too, and so she goes along with his escalating their relationship even as Bill pines for her. She refuses to be honest with anyone, and in the process hurts not only Bill and Robbie, but her friend Francie (Zoe Kazan), too.
But this is where Brother does its best work, as Bill and Rose struggle with the pressure to “be nice” even as that causes them to hurt people. Though Goodhart ultimately makes each character’s motivations explicit—Bill doesn’t actually need to articulate that he’s jealous of the attention Robbie receives, and that Robbie has a purpose in life, however selfish, as that is already made plain through their interactions and Kroll’s acting—she does let the notion that being both honest and nice isn’t always possible simply play out in a satisfying way.
And there’s real pleasure in watching these actors together. They’re all good enough actors that you don’t feel like they’re trading on their real-life relationships to get by, but they mesh together so well you can tell they’ve performed together before. Kroll and Slate, who did the “PubLIZity” sketches on The Kroll Show, have the kind of well-worn chemistry that makes Bill and Rose feel completely authentic.
My Blind Brother is a moderately sweet movie about terrible people. It’s more “Ha, that’s funny” than it is laugh out loud funny, and the awkwardness will make you wince, but it also hits on something true about the lengths we go to in the name of being nice. And it’s interesting to see this group of very funny people in a movie where they’re required to actually act more than be funny. It pretty much works.
My Blind Brother is available on demand.