Directed by David Howe in his full length feature directorial debut, and written by Christina Parrish, who also stars in the film, Call Me Brother finds siblings Lisa and Tony reunited for a summer weekend after ten years of being apart. With knowledge of their divorced parent’s previously loveless relationship, both siblings had to lean on each other for love. Now, facing the growing challenges of teen-hood and their sex-craved peers, brother and sister find themselves growing closer than they ever had before.
First, I think the best part of the film was the chemistry and complex relationship between Tony and Lisa. Andrew Dismukes (“Saturday Night Live”) as Tony did a great job of blending the awkward, reserved, and somewhat horny nuances of Tony with his own comedy/sketch background. He doesn’t have a ton of overtly comedic bits, but he’s able to cleverly apply his own comedy skills to the reality of being a shy teenage boy who’s exploring himself and his sexuality, while also using it to play off of his co-stars, particularly Lisa and Tony’s father, Frank (Asaf Ronen).
Speaking of Lisa, Christina Parrish (The Honor Farm, “The Leftovers”) steps effortlessly into this role while also serving as the film’s writer in her screenwriting debut. Acting-wise, though, I could honestly believe that Christina was a 16-year-old girl. She serves as a great mirror to Tony’s shyness and awkwardness, while also having the added inexperience of interacting with Tony’s horny friends and her father’s sex-charged relationship with his new girlfriend, Doris (Danu Aribe). There’s a lot of great bits of Lisa trying to tell a joke or fit in with Tony’s friends – and it usually not working out too well.
On the whole, Lisa and Tony’s relationship is really the heart of the film, especially in the flashbacks. We see the two as children playing with each other while their parents yell in the background. You really get the feel for how much these two care about each other and how they were essentially all the love they had. Even now, after being reunited, they slip right back into that close sibling relationship. When they’re among other people their age, you can really see how much more comfortable and happy they feel around each other. Besides them, I thought Danu Aribe (“Nomad of Nowhere”) and Asaf Ronen (“Red vs. Blue”) had great chemistry together, in addition to having a really lively and passionate relationship on the page. I liked how it went beyond just sex. You can really see how they compliment and fulfill each other.
The rest of the characters, particularly the teenage ones, are unfortunately pretty one dimensional. I think it does work relatively well with building the world and helping the audience to understand that this film is going to have a bit of an absurdist tone to it. However, it does cause a lot of the jokes to become repetitive and stale. When every minor character is obsessed with sex and are very crass, all the jokes end up being about sex and very crass. This problem also plagues scenes with Frank and Doris, though their characters are a bit more developed. There’s also this one character played by Nick Saverino, who’s primary characteristic is being a loser, so the majority of jokes with him are about what a loser he is, and it just comes across as a bit unintentionally mean spirited rather than funny.
The writing, editing, and direction all do a great job of giving the film a nice energy to it while keeping the tone and world very consistent with the whole dark comedy angle. There are extended sequences in which there is no sound, or it’s very minimized, and music is used to help convey the emotions – whether they be heartfelt or disturbingly comedic – and those sequences were some of the most resonating. In fact, there were lots of great music choices scattered throughout. The film was also beautifully shot, in addition to being very colorful, there are a lot of great uses of wide shots, so credit must go to Justin Howe, the cinematographer. While the film does feel a bit repetitive towards the middle – continuously alternating between Tony and Lisa growing closer while also showing flashbacks of their past – it ultimately picks up again at a party scene. Nevertheless, there’s very little filler and each scene knows when to keep the energy up and when to slow down.
The final thing I want to talk about is the elephant in the room. Because, yes, this film is about a brother and a sister developing romantic feelings for eachother. The reason I think it works is due to the dark comedy angle and slightly exaggerated tone the film has developed. I would be lying to say there weren’t times that didn’t make me feel strange. Incest is a very taboo subject, and not one many films explore. However, it certainly got a reaction out of me, and I think to penalize a film for my own personal feelings on the subject would be a mistake.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
Call Me Brother is not for the faint of heart. In fact, I didn’t always know how to feel at times, but I think for the film to handle such a subject as difficult as incest in the complex and nuanced way it did is something to be celebrated – not condemned. If it were tasteless, that would be a different story. What makes it work as well as it does is the great acting, chemistry, and writing for the two leads, consistently raunchy and comedic tone, and fast paced direction and editing. There aren’t that many laugh out loud bits, as the comedy does get a bit stale, but the over the top premise and characters are enough to make this an enjoyable – if not very strange – coming-of-age comedy.