Guilt, love and pity wrestle for primacy in “My Blind Brother,” a cute and cutting romantic comedy about the “able” person stuck in the shadows behind a blind “hero.”
That’s how everyone refers to “The Amazing Robbie,” a character given a mean, narcissistic edge by Adam Scott. He can’t see, but he runs Ohio marathons. He’s planning a Great Lakes swim. All for his charity, the Out of Sight Foundation.
All for others. Right.
Maybe brother Bill (ever-droll Nick Kroll) wouldn’t feel that way. He’s the guy who has to train with Robbie, the brother with eyesight lashed to him by a ribbon so that Robbie can manage his latest media-friendly feat. He’s the fellow Robbie always forgets to thank from the podium, or interviewed on TV. He’s an afterthought, even to his parents.
“Look, Robbie, I made your favorite, moussaka!,” Mom says. As for Bill?
“You can just take the eggplant out.”
Bill is guilted into each new exploit, even though he wants out.
“Kids don’t stop being blind, Bill.”
Bill drowns his guilt-ridden sorrows in a bar, where he meets a weeping, equally guilt-ridden Rose, played with heart and hurt by Jenny Slate. Her boyfriend was hit by a bus — right after she broke up with him. The Rose and Bill drinking game becomes “Who is the worse human being?”
“I’m a superficial narcissist!”
“I’m lazy and resentful!”
They have chemistry, shared misery, and their alcoholic embrace would go somewhere, only she won’t let it. Too soon. Too guilt-ridden.
But what does Rose find to atone for that guilt, after giving up drunken delusions of Peace Corps service? She’ll become a ‘reader,’ the guide a blind athlete needs to lead him through his exploits. And wouldn’t you know it? That guy turns out to be Robbie.
Writer-director Sophie Goodhart tore down and rebuilt her 2003 short of the same title for this, hanging onto one very funny central idea. The disabled can be…difficult. And demanding. And self-centered.
The dynamic here is that Rose stumbles into a pity affair with Robbie, while Bill pines away for her as they share training responsibilities. Zoe Kazan is Rose’s annoyed roommate, the one she tries to palm Bill off on, the one who sees where the real sparks are and what sad, broken-hearted Rose is really up to.
Charlie Hewson is funny as Bill’s blind, dope-smoking pal, the one who reassures Bill that Robbie “isn’t so amazing.” Talia Tabin (“Parks & Rec”) stings Bill’s rude, bullying Russian underling at the photocopy shop he manages.
The love triangle here, all co-stars on TV’s “Parks & Rec,” clicks largely because of Jenny Slate’s “Obvious Child” fearlessness. She makes a “morning after” nude scene hilarious by scrambling into panties backwards.
As Rose and Bill threaten to give in to the inevitable, behind Robbie’s back but not actually behind it because he’s blind and doesn’t need to have his back turned, Slate, Kroll and a deadpan Scott make getting undressed, then hurriedly dressed, a sparkling bit of physical comedy.
“My Blind Brother” takes things in some very predictable directions, and Goodhart was too goodhearted to let Scott go full-bore jerk as Robbie. The character errs on the side of anti-archetype. He’s believably real — as real as Bill’s grim acceptance of his fate and his responsibility for it, as real as Rose’s resignation about doing one good thing for one person, no matter what it costs her.
All that adds up to a comedy with chuckles instead of belly laughs, and not quite enough of those, and poignant moments of hard, sad reality that everyone plays nearly perfectly.
MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexuality and drug use
Cast: Adam Scott, Jenny Slate, Nick Stoll, Zoe Kazan
Credits: Written and directed by Sophie Goodhart. A Starz Digital release.
Running time: 1:25