My Brother

2007, Movie, PG-13, 0 mins


Written and directed by Anthony Lover, an Oscar nominee for the 1968 short Bergman parody De Duva (1968), this supremely well-intentioned urban drama revolves around adult brothers, one with Down syndrome, who are struggling to transcend poverty and their own unhappy family history.

Devoted and deeply religious single mother L'Tisha Morton (Vanessa Williams) raised her older son, Isaiah (Rodney Henry), to protect and defend James (Donovan Jennings), whose handicap makes him the constant target of mockery and bullying in their tough New York neighborhood. When Isaiah is 10, L'Tisha becomes ill and while trying desperately to make arrangements for her soon-to-be-orphaned boys, she extracts a promise from Isaiah that he will always look after James.

As an adult, Isaiah (Nashawn Kearse) is getting nowhere with his efforts to make it as a stand-up comic. He's still abiding by his promise, sharing a rundown apartment with James (Christopher Scott) and making sure his brother gets to the church services he loves and the low-level supermarket that provides their only income. Ashamed of relying on James' earnings, Isaiah allows a friend to draw him into a shady-sounding gig orchestrated by some vaguely menacing Italians. All Isaiah has to do is dress nicely, attend a chichi party and surreptitiously pick up a small, sealed package; he'll get instructions later about delivery. Assured that the package — which isn't to be opened under any circumstances — doesn't contain drugs, Isaiah agrees. Naturally, it all goes terribly wrong. After a night of celebrating, Isaiah awakes at home to find the package missing; he suspects James may have innocently thrown it out or hidden it, but no amount of pleading or cajoling elicits any information. When the call comes to deliver the package, the panicked Isaiah flees, reluctantly leaving behind James, who can't cope with changes in routine.

The first half of Lover's film is surprisingly affecting: Kearse gives a solid, low-key performance as a decent man caught between sibling devotion and frustration at the way caretaking has shaped his life, while Scott, who has Down syndrome (as does Donovan Jennings, who plays James as a child), imbues James with quirky, unself-conscious personality. But the film comes apart in its second half, when James' flight triggers a long series of flashbacks to the brothers' childhood. The present-day story loses momentum in a wave of heavy-handed messages as Isaiah recalls the shocking discovery of his father's identity, his and James' hellish experiences in institutional care, and L'Tisha's lectures about the hardships facing African Americans. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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