The messy realities of life and death intrude on a family’s deeply held rationalizations.
Hawley (Other People’s Weddings, 2004, etc.) creates an unsettling, caustically funny portrait of contradictory siblings at odds with themselves, their lovers and their wildly dysfunctional relatives—imagine the family showdown from a Sam Shepard play infused with the more sophisticated existential crises of Tom Perrotta’s novels. The animated preamble opens on Valentine’s Day to find David and Scott Henry waiting in the harsh light of an emergency room, one with a broken nose, the other with a broken fist. “Now that you know what happens,” Hawley writes with a wink, “it’s time to start this story where all good stories should start. In the middle.” Scott doesn’t believe in the basic decency of human beings, least of all himself with his pathetic job (eavesdropping on customer service calls) and his cheating harpy of a girlfriend. Brother David is the proverbial family man, but he’s got a secret. The traveling salesman has and holds dear not one but two families, both with children, one on each coast just to be safe. His anxiety and fears about being discovered are at war with his desire to be free of all his burdensome responsibilities. “You think it’s the hardest thing in the world, to change your life, but really it’s as easy as falling downhill,” Hawley informs us. “All you have to do is let go.” The untimely death of their father inspires an ill-advised road trip with their bitter, alcoholic mother. Subsequent misadventures ultimately lead to one man’s expression of grief in a strip club, another’s unlikely encounter with a higher power and, finally, that world-shattering punch. Hawley’s interruptive ruminations on the nature of time, storytelling and universal truth occasionally threaten to derail his narrative, but the fractured appeal of these rival siblings runs as deep as their angst.
Brotherly love never hurt so good.