Is there a current actor as skilled at modulating his charm levels as Adam Scott? Although he’s probably best-known for the offhand but immense likability of his TV roles on Parks And Recreation and Party Down, he’s been equally convincing as a hilariously loathsome alpha bro in Step Brothers and a buttoned-up cold fish in Sleeping With Other People. In My Blind Brother, Scott plays both sides of the fence as Robbie, who was blinded in a teenage accident and has dedicated much of his life since to charity work for other blind children. Perhaps not coincidentally, this charity work involves frequent displays of his athletic prowess, then giving faux-humble speeches that trade on his status as a local-news hero.
Having Scott play a blind man who’s both vaguely insufferable and also unassailable is an inspired notion and leaves the lovable underachiever role to Nick Kroll. Kroll is less innately lovable than his co-star in a way that makes his casting as Robbie’s brother, Bill, surprisingly perfect (save, perhaps, for the idea that the two actors have much in common genetically). Bill, who was present for Robbie’s accident, dutifully helps his brother train for whatever ambitious charity project catches his athletic fancy. He seems to take mild solace in the fact that Robbie can’t see him rolling his eyes.
As the movie opens, Robbie is finishing up a charity run and immediately planning a charity swim; Bill feels exhausted and would prefer to sit at home and watch TV, an interest he discovers he shares with Rose (Jenny Slate), who he connects with at a bar. Rose flees after a one-night stand, only to unexpectedly encounter Bill again when she winds up dating Robbie. Rose isn’t sure if she’s particularly attracted to Robbie, but his haloed virtuousness makes him seem like the kind of guy she should be dating. A love triangle quickly develops, and after ceding the spotlight to Robbie for much of their adult lives, Bill finds his brother dating his makeshift dream girl too much to bear with mere unseen eye-rolling.
Even when leavened with quirks and weaknesses, dream-girl parts like Rose often waste the time of talented female performers, turning them into prizes for male characters. Here, either the screenplay supplies Rose with sufficient depth or Slate brings it up to her level. (The wasted time instead gets reallocated to Zoe Kazan, whose role as Rose’s best friend is purely logistical.) Ultimately, writer-director Sophie Goodhart gives the less interesting sibling-rivalry angle more screen time, with some attendant (if mildly amusing) sitcom-like antics. But what resonates about My Blind Brother is the way Bill and especially Rose wrestle with the idea of what it means to be a good person.
Slate and Kroll keep that thread from fraying away into nothingness. Comedies with slacker heroes tend to nudge the characters toward sometimes-narrow ideas of growing up, often boiling it down to deciding to obtain a better-paying and more dignified job, then immediately finding one. My Blind Brother is refreshing in its acceptance of Bill’s laziness; he manages a copy shop and desires mainly to maintain his own life, however meager. Kroll sells this meagerness as endearing and relatable, while Scott does a fine job of testing the limits of how irritating a good-on-paper person can be in practice.
With its three leads all having appeared repeatedly in the small-town setting of Parks And Recreation, My Blind Brother sometimes feels like an alternate-world appendix to that beloved show. It doesn’t have nearly the level of location-specific detail, but there’s a similar warmth to the way Goodhart (who adapted this feature film from an earlier short) treats her characters, even when they’re treating each other poorly. My Blind Brother is slight and a little easy, but it’s powered by sincere affection.