First-time director Sophie Goodhart spearheads an unofficial Parks and Recreation reunion in My Blind Brother, a romantic comedy/drama (romcomdram?… oh, fuck off) out this Friday in theatres and on demand. Alas, it is not a movie where Ben Wyatt, Mona Lisa Saperstein and “The Douche” team up to take down a Russian drug cartel, but it’s still pretty great especially when stacked up against the sorts of movies that typically come out in September? What are you going to see this weekend instead—Snowden? Why do you hate yourself?
My Blind Brother introduces us to brothers Robbie (Scott) and Bill (Kroll), the former a blind athlete who does marathons for charity, the latter a copy shop manager who acts as his older brother’s training partner and guide. To the outside world, Robbie is heroic and selfless and Bill the family schlub, but family dynamics speak to something more complex. Namely, Robbie—more on the Derek (“the motherfucking Catalina Wine Mixer”) from Step Brothers end of the spectrum than Ben from Parks and Rec—is kind of an asshole, he and his parents constantly putting Bill down and guilt tripping him for maybe wanting to stay home and watch TV instead of running a marathon with his picture-perfect brother.
Into this toxic dynamic bulldozes one Rose (Slate), a self-described “shallow narcissist” who’s consumed with guilt because of how her boyfriend died: hit by a car right after she broke up with him for, among other reasons, having weird nipples. Well-intentioned but neurotic, hyper-critical of both herself and others, Rose and Bill meet at a bar and hit it off immediately. Fast forward a few scenes, and Rose ends up stumbling into a relationship with Robbie, with whom she refuses to break up despite their incompatibility because what kind of a monster would she be if she dumped a blind guy, right?
As you may be able to guess from the description, everyone in My Blind Brother is kind of a shit—and that’s a large part of what makes the film so good. The film’s a refreshing mix of a light tone with some seriously dark subject matter. There are times when I laughed at something, only to step back and take a moment to wonder if I am, in fact, a terrible person. That tendency towards uncomfortable emotional reactions fits well with the genesis of the film: Goodhart came up with the idea for the short on which My Blind Brother is based when her sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, alongside the normal spate of emotions—sadness, shock, awe over her sister’s bravery—Goodhart also found she was jealous of her sister’s newfound (if horrible) specialness. “She was always going to be this heroic figure,” Goodhart explains, “…and I knew that, in contrast, I was going to be the lazy good-for-nothing.”
When I interviewed Goodhart, we spoke briefly about the romantic comedy genre—which isn’t what My Blind Brother is per se, but there are both romantic and comedic elements. Goodhart professed herself a fan of some of the classics of the genre, like When Harry Met Sally and Broadcast News, but argued that, more recently, “people got used to the idea of a rom-com being very generic… You know what to expect.” It’s that sameness that makes many modern-day rom-coms so blah—it’s the ones that give us characters and situations we haven’t seen ad nauseam, like Obvious Child (also with Jenny Slate) or Crazy, Stupid, Love, that really work. My Blind Brother is in that group as well, not because its love triangle involves a blind person, but because all three sides of it are allowed to be somewhat dickish. Robbie, Bill, and Rose are all non-Hollywoodized; Goodhart lets them be who they are, instead of sanding off the rough edges to make them more palatable and avoid challenging the audience. Rose genuinely forces herself to stay in a relationship with Robbie, lying to him about her real feelings in the process, out of pity. That’s awful. Who’s that meant to be good for? Who does that? Bill explains to Rose upon their first meeting that he’s lazy and resentful, and yep—he ain’t lying.
At the same time, you do root for these people, because they’re genuinely trying to be better people. Even if they fuck up. A lot. Like we all tend to. How often do you see this type of person get their happy ending? Did this movie just, in the year of our Lord 2016, make me like a love triangle plotline? Are we going to collectively mentally reconcile ourselves to the fact that Adam Scott, sweet Ben Wyatt, has a God-given gift when it comes to playing assholes? Can Jenny Slate be in all the movies? Thanks.