Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Credibility in brotherhood

There's something about hearing that two brothers are making a movie that seems to give it an extra boost of credibility.

I'm not sure why that is -- two heads are better than one?

But the latest example is The Square, a thriller directed by Nash Edgerton, written by and co-starring Joel Edgerton. My wife and I saw it yesterday. And if the quality of the Australian duo's first feature is any indication, perhaps "the Edgerton brothers" is a phrase we're going to have to get used to, just like "the Coen brothers" or "the Wachowski brothers."

What is it about teams of brothers that makes them get into making films together? It seems to be a unique creative partnership born out of the imaginary battles and adventures that played out in the backyards of their youth. I say "unique" because you don't really see other teams of family members making films, do you? There are no father-son partnerships. There are no brother-sister partnerships. There are no sister-sister partnerships. There are no mother-daughter partnerships. There are no uncle-second cousin once removed partnerships. Just brothers.

And there are numerous examples. Forthwith:

1) Joel & Ethan Coen. The most famous set of directing brothers has made 15 films together, most of which received great critical acclaim, and one of which (No Country for Old Men) won best picture. Depending on the film, they were either both credited for directing, or one was credited for directing and one for writing, or one credited for directing and both for writing, etc. (Actually, all the movies were listed as directed by Joel prior to The Ladykillers in 2004). There are obviously parallels between the Edgertons and the Coens, as The Square is a tightly crafted little thriller of downward-spiraling consequences, very much like the Coens' debut, Blood Simple. However, I feel quite certain that the reason many people are comparing The Square to Blood Simple is the fact that a team of brothers made both films. Fun fact: Joel is married to actress Frances McDormand. Best film: Raising Arizona. Worst film: Burn After Reading.

2) Peter & Bobby Farrelly. The Rhode Island comedy-directing duo took the world by storm with Dumb and Dumber in 1994, and have steadily been getting worse since then. They have been inseparable from the standpoint of their credits, each appearing alongside the other for all their writing, directing and producing gigs. Fun fact: They love casting Boston-area sports stars in their movies. Best film: Dumb and Dumber. Worst film: Fever Pitch.

3) Larry & Andy Wachowski. The Matrix made this pair household names; the sequels to The Matrix seriously called into question their narrative instincts. However, there's no doubt that they have a specific cinematic vision, which they've explored through projects they've directed as well as projects they've produced. Always credited alongside one another. Fun fact: Larry now lives as a woman named Lana. For the purposes of this post, I'll still consider him to be a brother rather than a sister. Best film: Bound. Worst film: The Matrix Revolutions.

4) Allen & Albert Hughes. No directing team in this post is as diverse as the Hughes brothers, who have done everything from a documentary about pimps (American Pimp) to a movie about inner-city gang violence (Menace II Society) to a period piece about Jack the Ripper (From Hell) to a post-apocalyptic action movie (The Book of Eli). What's interesting about this pair is that they have not let their status as African-American directors dictate the subject matter they've pursued. They are jointly credited on everything. Fun fact: They're twins. Best film: From Hell. Worst film: Dead Presidents (though I haven't yet seen The Book of Eli, which I understand could be a contender here).

5) Mark & Jay Duplass. These brothers have not yet reached the level of fame of the others on this list, but they are kings of the mumblecore world. Unfamiliar with the term "mumblecore"? It's a movement of films in which non-professional actors improvise their dialogue (for the most part) in search of a kind of hyperrealism, and the films are frequently about generally mundane occurrences. If done well, though, mumblecore films can be totally engrossing. Mark is always listed as a writer, sometimes listed as a director, and usually appears in the films; Jay is always the director, always the writer, but is not an actor. Fun fact: "Non-professional" actor Mark has started turning up in others' projects as well, including Greenberg (which also features mumblecore actress Greta Gerwig) and the TV show The League. Best film: The Puffy Chair. Worst film: Baghead. These are actually their only two films that I've seen. If I had to list the best film influenced by the Duplasses and starring Mark, it would be Lynn Shelton's Humpday.

That's all I can think of, but that's probably enough.

Sure, there are other teams that have worked together despite not being related. Right now, you've got Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who directed the Crank movies (and the unfortunate Gamer). Back in the 40's and 50's, it was Gene Kelly and Stanley Donan, with Singin' in the Rain among others.

But perhaps the brother partnerships have endured and ultimately been more successful for a simple reason: They're cut from the same cloth, and are less likely to have the creative differences that might push them apart. What's more, it's probably easier to share a credit with a family member. It speaks well of your whole clan. Whereas if you're sharing it with just some other dude, perhaps there's more of a competitive drive to prove that you're the one doing all the hard work, that you're the real talent while the other guy is just riding your coattails. Paradoxically, you'd think that impulse might be even stronger among siblings -- but it hasn't worked out that way for the partnerships discussed here.

We'll see what path the Edgertons take. I'm just glad to see Joel Edgerton prove to me he's more than the forgettable wimp who had the lead in the film Kinky Boots. He's plenty memorable here as a petty criminal in over his head, as is his brother Nash, a first-time director who has his head above water just fine, thank you very much.

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