The road to equal treatment has been a long and difficult one for the disabled community, and littered with setbacks and defeats. Occasionally lost in that quest for accessibility legislation and insurance mandates has been the subordinate struggle to recognize the fact that, yes, the disabled can be assholes, too.
Thirtysomething slacker Bill, played by Nick Kroll (The League, Parks and Recreation), possesses the hopes and dreams typical of his demographic: meeting the right girl, taking naps and fantasizing about being paralyzed so he can be pushed around by others and watch TV all day. This is both a generational aspiration and a response to the great popularity of his blind brother, Robbie (Adam Scott).
Robbie would be insufferable enough if he merely ran marathons and gave repetitively self-deprecating TV interviews, but the fact that he’s blind only throws Bill’s own shortcomings into sharper relief (he’s “lazy and judgmental,” as Bill himself puts it). Robbie is a bro in more than the literal sense of the word. He’s shallow, insensitive, and self-absorbed (“Nothing trumps being blind”), and after suffering one too many of Robbie’s digs at his competence and character, Bill decides to do something about it.
Enter “superficial narcissist” Rose (Jenny Slate, continuing the Parks and Rec reunion), whom Bill meets and sleeps with in an uncharacteristically vulnerable moment. Rose immediately regrets their one-night stand, coming as it does on the heels of the memorial for her ex-boyfriend, and insists she wants to devote her life to helping others. It doesn’t take Tiresias to predict who that “other” person is going to be (hint: Robbie).
Written and directed by Sophie Goodhart from her own short film, My Blind Brother explores this unconventional dynamic with gentle humor and a refreshing amount of sensitivity, brushing up against the more cringe-worthy aspects of its premise without reveling in them. When the movie works, it’s thanks to its avoidance of the easy joke, and also its surprisingly nuanced performances.
Slate, excellent in 2014’s Obvious Child, is nonetheless probably more widely known for her recent animation voice work, while Kroll, lest we forget, most recently gave voice to the Douche in Sausage Party. Here, he proves he’s capable of both poignancy and understated pathos. Because when you get down to it, these aren’t bad people — à la It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia — they’re just not particularly good, either. They’re not especially attentive to other people’s feelings, specifically those of Rose’s roommate, Francie (Zoe Kazan), and both seem like they’re liable to throw in the towel on life at any moment.
My Blind Brother takes an unfortunate swerve into traditional rom-com cliché at the end, but Goodhart has a capable enough handle on things to keep it from derailing the movie. It’s often uncomfortable, and touching in spots, but also shrewdly hilarious. Goodhart and company encourage us to both look at our attitudes toward the less fortunate and accept that sometimes good things happen to bad people.