Of all the literary devices used to grant a physical wallop to a character’s metaphysical situation, I suppose making a pathological narcissist blind isn’t the worst. I mean, it ain’t Ahab’s missing leg or the impotence of Jake Barnes, but what the hell? It works, in a slight to middling way.
That’s the conceit at the center of writer and director Sophie Goodhart’s odd romantic comedy My Blind Brother: Robbie (Adam Scott) is a blind man who uses — and I do mean uses — his visual impairment to garner attention to his celebrity cause (the fictional “Out of Sight” foundation) and himself, but mostly himself. As the film opens, Robbie is finishing a marathon, leashed to his loser brother Bill (Nick Kroll), who is forever foisted into the backseat (sometimes literally) of his brother’s relentless pursuit of fame and recognition.
Robbie is an asshole, full of blind self-regard that causes everyone and everything around him to become a glorified reflection of his own awesomeness. Bill, on the other hand, is a resentful do-nothing whose grudging obligation to Robbie hides a guilty conscience that won’t let him advance one centimeter in life.
Enter Rose (the wonderful Jenny Slate), an unhinged woman whose life is reeling due to the fact that her boyfriend walked into an oncoming bus directly after their breakup fight (she didn’t like his nipples, she confesses); full of self-loathing, Rose decides she now needs to dedicate her life to some sort of humanitarian cause, like helping baby elephants.
Rose and Bill get together in a drunken one-night stand; Bill falls in love, Rose runs away in a panic — to become Robbie’s assistant in his blind athletic feats of celebrity. Hence, a sort of love triangle forms, an obtuse isosceles with smug but unwitting Robbie at the base, and Rose and Robbie locked in guilty longing at sharp angles. Hilarity ensues, some of it obvious, some of it quite clever and biting.
My Blind Brother is a small movie in almost every sense of the word, short in length, shallow in depth and narrow in scope. But within the limited parameters it sets up, it does contain certain charms. The cast, for one, is excellent: Scott plays Robbie with just the right balance of unctuous self-regard and overweening vulnerability, and Kroll is attractive as the lovable mope whose deepest hopes have been tamped down in a slapstick of self-sabotage.
But it is Slate who completely carries the movie, giving it an edge of exuberant political incorrectness it might otherwise lack. She plays Rose as a thoroughly modern version of the self-conscious woman: by turns girly and ferocious, hyper-critical and yearning, she struggles to actualize herself without becoming a total parody of co-dependence and self-sacrifice. This tension gives Rose a loose-cannon aspect — a sort of millennial Annie Hall — and Slate pulls it off with comic grace.
What distinguishes My Blind Brother from other run-of-the-mill romantic comedies is that gentle push against our touchy-feely age of entitlement and easy sympathies. All three characters in the film are, in their own ways, selfish and blind, but none more blind than the blind guy, who turns his disability into a weapon with which he manipulates and abuses everyone in his orbit. The struggle, for all concerns, becomes not sight but vision.
Love, of course, is the answer to all forms of blindness. My Blind Brother gets to that solution in crude fashion, with lots of wincing moments and some bad manners. It’s a nice twist — like Todd Solondz with a heart. (Broadway Metro)