“You want me to be happy for you two fools?”
There’s a lot of drama to be tapped from the relationship between parent and child, especially those with a dynamic clouded by abuse. It doesn’t have to be physical or sexual to leave a lasting mark either—constant verbal disapproval despite doing everything in your power to help is devastating in its own right. This is where we meet the nuclear family at the heart of Dustin Cook‘s Mother & Brother. Too sick to walk on her own with oxygen tank in tow, the matriarch (Lisa Goodman) spews her bile from the comfort of bed. A sense of responsibility still rests with her eldest son (Laurence Fuller) despite a barrage of mean-spirited remarks disparaging his life choices as though unaware each one put her health above his happiness. Her youngest (Clint Napier) isn’t nearly so trapped.
The reason for this is that Fuller took on the burden so Napier could escape and construct a life of his own. It doesn’t mean the latter wrote them off, though. On the contrary, he’d love nothing more than for the three of them to sit together with love in their hearts. By hoping the announcement of his engagement to Annabelle (Ashley Hayes) will be just such an occasion, he invites mom and brother to the following day’s being a whore and how there was no way in Hell she’d ever be happy about their union. Fuller on-the-other-hand just sits with a knowing smile and sarcasm, continuing to push his little brother away from this familial prison with self-pity. In the end, Fuller couldn’t have gone even if he wanted with Mom’s acquiesce.
It’s a familiar story that utilizes its three performances to make it into more. Cook’s distilled the important details of twenty-plus years into pretty much four brief interactions. We catch a glimpse of the abuse through Mom alienating Annabelle and chastising Napier. We witness the complex nature of the siblings’ co-existence with her paternal albatross hanging around their necks, rendering one of the mind that leaving is his only option while the other drowns in guilt. And we see the compassionate love Fuller inexplicably provides—even smiling at times in the delusion Mom might be nostalgic rather than biting for once—only to experience how thankless and cruel she truly is. The closing scene therefore isn’t meant to be surprising or shocking. Death ultimately loomed over them from the start. It simply becomes a matter of who will survive.