Call Me Brother

Directed by David Howe | Review by Helen Wheels

Call Me Brother, written by Christina Parrish, is a script that plays around with the taboo of incest. In the film, Parrish unflinchingly takes on the lead role of Lisa, an awkward teenager who reunites with her brother Tony, after being separated ten years earlier because of their parent’s divorce. The bond the siblings had as young children is still there, and much to our chagrin quickly blossoms into romance.

The movie opens with music that sounds like it came from a cruise ship, as we are introduced to the family. Dad’s new wife, Doris (Danu Uribe) is dressed like a pin-up girl from the 1950’s and is busy making cinnamon rolls. Lisa (Christina Parrish) and Tony (Andrew Dismukes), are sleeping in the same room on single beds just as they did when they were kids. Frank (Asaf Ronen), who under no circumstances wants to be called dad, is sitting on the toilet with the morning paper. There’s no doubt we’re in for an irreverent comedy; but Parrish and director, David Howe push it just a little further.

Howe brings the weird dysfunctional world that Lisa and Tony live in, to life, casting the quirky characters with colleagues from the Austin Texas stand-up comedy and filmmaking communities. The comedic background of the actors gives this feature-length movie the drive it needs to keep us uncomfortably laughing and entertained from beginning to end. I spent half of the time hoping to god that Tony and Lisa weren’t going to actually have sex, and the other half, dare I say … no, I can’t say it. I did not want them to do the deed. However, I completely understood the reasons for the intimacy of their relationship.

Even though “Call Me Brother” is a comedy, the characters are complex and layered. The story is full of subtext that examines human behavior. The family feels tense about Lisa and Tony’s mother (Kim Lowery), who is seen briefly in the opening and closing scenes of the movie. From our short encounter, we can sum up that she isn’t exactly the motherly type. She has no interest in seeing her son, and that fact isn’t lost on him. He knows she left him and had never tried to contact him. She doesn’t exactly love Lisa either, asking her to please not call while she’s on vacation. Lisa is probably in need of affection after living with this self-absorbed woman her whole life.

On the other hand, Frank and Doris are overly open about their sexuality and consumed with each other, which leads them into acting inappropriately. We can infer from Frank’s actions that deviant behavior is probably the norm in this family. But as he puts it, Doris “talked him through everything.” Now he can be himself like never before! The boisterous behavior of the adults, however, doesn’t leave a lot of room for the quiet and timid, Tony. When his sister comes home, he is happy to have the company. They both remember what it was like when they were young and living with parents who didn’t even like each other, so this set-up seems pretty great. At least everyone is happy.
“Call me Brother” makes us think about how and why certain no-nos exist in society, and also how someone could potentially fall in love with a relative. I feel gross just acknowledging that I get it, but maybe that’s the point. Breaking boundaries. Questioning. And acknowledging that we’re human and have inappropriate feelings sometimes. Or, could the filmmakers be asking us to question society’s reasons for considering intimate feelings between relatives a subject so unspeakable that we can’t talk openly about those types of consensual relationships?

The true talent of a comedian is to take a hot-button topic and talk about it in ways that no one else can because comedy gets a pass. In that sense, the filmmakers were able to pull off a film like “Call Me brother” by using their talents and experience as stand-up comedians. They used their sense of irony, timing, and straight-up silliness to put the subject of incest in our face and make us think about it as something that could be a mutual attraction. Whether or not we and society as a whole agree with it, is another matter. But maybe we could talk about it.

In the end, the connection between Tony and Lisa is based on trust, and unconditional love; the things we crave in our relationships. Add teenage hormones to the mix, and we don’t know whether to laugh or shudder. Most of the time it’s a combination. Watching this in a theater would be great, just for the audience reaction alone.

 

Helen Wheels is an independent filmmaker, freelance writer, and visual artist. She has produced, directed, worked as a set designer and scenic painter, and has been an assistant director on dozens of films. Wheels graduated from Shoreline College with an AAAS in Digital Film Production and is continuing toward her MFA in New Media Communications.  Known for her eye to detail and advanced research skills, Wheels is currently researching historical events for her latest script and is in the process of developing her online writing business.