Movie Review: “Half Brothers” (2020)

Regrettably, I have no “clever” little entry point into this review. I wish I could relate the thing back to some bigger picture idea. I wouldn’t mind riffing on the meaning of road trip films or lost fathers or found siblings, but I feel a little bit like I’ve done that before. Plus, “Half Brothers” doesn’t particularly require it. In fact, it might do the film a disservice.

Directed by Luke Greenfield with a screenplay from Eduardo Cisneros & Jason Shuman (from a story by Ali LeRoi & Cisneros), “Half Brothers” is, as the above paragraph and title may indicate, a road trip film about a couple of half brothers searching for the truth about their father. It stars Luis Gerardo Méndez as Renato, a successful engineer who owns his own airplane business in Mexico and Connor Del Rio as Asher, a half-brother that Renato didn’t know existed.

The plot of the movie gets going when Renato receives a call that his father, Flavio (Juan Pablo Espinosa) is dying. Flavio left the family to go to the United States to earn a living when Renato was just a child and, upon arriving in Chicago, Renato finds out that his father, at some point in the intervening years, had Asher. That revelation is not a particularly joyous one for Renato.

It is instantly set up as a tale of opposites, with Renato being somewhat high-strung and completely anti-American (for largely, though not entirely, valid reasons), and Asher being a ne’er-do-well, obnoxious, waste of space. Except for not being overweight, Asher represents all of Renato’s worst views of Americans, a problem made infinitely worse due to Renato’s sense that his father didn’t just betray him by not returning to Mexico as promised, but by having a whole new family as well.

Importantly—and the movie only works if this is true—Méndez and Del Rio are truly charming together. Renato is comedic because of his anger and Méndez perfectly walks that fine line between making the character both difficult and engaging. Renato becomes someone who is infuriating and whose friendship one would love. Of course, as Pamela (Pia Watson), Renato’s fiancée is happy to remind him, Renato doesn’t really make friends. Plus, it is tough to imagine anyone with any sense being friends with Asher.

Or is it? This is where Del Rio comes in as he turns an incompetent oaf more interested in rescuing goats than helping his newfound half brother solve a riddle so he can return to Mexico in time for his wedding into a three-dimensional figure. Yes, the audience knows that a bond will form between the two and Asher will be softened as the movie continues (as will Renato), but Del Rio makes it a believable change rather than a purely scripted one.

The whole thing is, admittedly, rather silly as it’s built around their father having engineered a scavenger hunt so his two boys could bond and learn important secrets about their old man’s life, but it’s successful nonetheless. Greenfield is able to mix the funny moments with the shmaltzy ones, continually shifting the movie back and forth between comedy and drama with ease. “Half Brothers” may often look like a bland single camera comedy series, but it feels far better due to the leads and the comedy-drama balance.

Beyond that, it is true that there is something vaguely disappointing about the fact that the end of the trip is a foregone conclusion – Renato will, everyone knows, wind up loving his brother and forgiving his father. However, even here, “Half Brothers” manages to survive based solely on its charm. One actually doesn’t mind the reversal in feelings terribly and can understand how multiple individuals failed in order for the Renato-Flavio relationship to die. Nitpickers will be able to pull apart everyone’s actions and show how they could have done better, but that would miss the point.

By the time the movie ends, there can be no doubt that one wishes that Renato and Asher had gotten to stay on their road trip for a longer period. There can be no doubt that one wants to see just how the two men interact with Renato’s new stepson, Emilio (Mikey Salazar), a boy who has a penchant for wearing serial killer masks and not talking. And yet, the story that needed to be told is clearly finished.

“Half Brothers,” like so many other films, isn’t one destined for awards glory, nor does it appear that such was the intention. No, the movie exists in order to brighten the viewer’s day just a little bit, to make them laugh and smile and remark upon the importance of family and their own willingness to see the world from someone else’s point of view. It doesn’t have anything new or revelatory to say on any of those scores, but it doesn’t need to either. It’s just a fun, unassuming, movie and absolutely worth it.

 

photo credit:  Focus Features



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