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‘Call Me Brother’ is trying to be shocking and off putting and boy does it pull that off
by Jeremy Fogelman
Cast: Andrew Dismukes, Christina Parrish
Director: David Howe
There is something you see sometimes in indie movies, the idea of violating some taboo. Some films do this about violence or social morays or sex, pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable on the screen. Something though that isn’t so common (or at least it didn’t use to be) was portraying incest on screen -- although Game of Thrones has had a big dent on that with both a brother/sister and an aunt/nephew relationship explicitly shown. And those had a lot of defenders.
Call Me Brother comes from director David Howe and is written by Christina Parrish, who also stars in the movie as Lisa (or “Sister”). The movie tells a relatively straightforward story: Lisa and her brother Tony (Andrew Dismukes) were very close as kids, the only positive connection they had in a house with parents that seemed to only yell at each other. After they divorced, the mom got Lisa and the dad Frank (Asaf Ronen) got Tony.
But around ten years later, the mom drops off Lisa at her ex-husband’s house to take a weekend vacation, and it’s the first time either of the two siblings have seen each other in years. Now they are both teenagers, and their father Frank has remarried to a very nice lady named Doris (Danu Uribe). Frank has an odd way of dealing with his kids, insisting that they call him Tony instead of Dad, and frankly and delightedly talking about his sexual relationship with Doris. So it’s an odd environment.
The movie shows that there’s an immediate closeness and connection between the two siblings, but it begins to move into a far more problematic and incestuous direction, as the two seem to realize they are attracted to each other. In a way, this is a sort of entertaining thing to watch, with well written awkwardness and very good acting from the two leads (both are in their 20s but believably play teenagers).
The parts that work less well are the cast of teenage characters that Tony and Lisa keep hanging out with, who feel less realized and more like tissue-thin caricatures that seem mainly to create awkward situations so that Tony and Lisa can leave them together. There’s a sort of charm to the awkward comedy, but that’s the sort of thing that doesn’t work for everyone.
The pushing of social boundaries with the essential normalization of incest as a reasonable alternative of two people without much love in their lives connecting with each other instead of others is an odd choice, ultimately. I don’t know that Christina Parrish actually believes that it’s a reasonable alternative, but there are some other odd choices in the movie, like several odd upskirt and overly sexualized directorial choices in shooting the two leads.
It serves perhaps to make the audience even more uncomfortable, as these two are playing teenagers, even if the actors are well above high school age. I can’t really recommend this movie, despite many of the qualities being effective -- the writing other than the random strange teenagers is pretty good, and you get a good sense of the family members through the writing and acting. But after that final scene finished, I felt like it was a movie that didn’t know whether it was being brave or foolish. I can’t imagine watching it again, but I feel like there’s real potential of these two leads in something again -- maybe something that isn’t so weird.
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