Go Brother!Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/28/18 13:12:19
The line between someone being well-intentioned and protective in a sweet way and being the same in a creepy way is not always clear, especially in movies like this one, which work by making something weird into something emotional. The makers of "Go Brother!" are just capable enough to make one see their characters' good intentions, but not quite able to either confront or paper over how lousy their actions can be.There's not a jury in the world that would convict Shimiao ("Wendy" Zhang Zifeng) if she murdered her brother Shifen (Peng Yuchang) - he steals her allowance, reads her diary, resets her alarm, and then, once she's running late for school, texts her to bring the backpack he forgot at home. For all that, she still covers for him when he gets in trouble at school, but when he (and their parents) once more lets him down, this time on her birthday, she wishes that she were an only child. The next morning, things are weird - Shifen is still around, but now he's the brother to Shimiao's celebrity-obsessed best friend Miaomiao (Zhao Jinmai), pulling all the same crap on her. And while she initially doesn't miss that, how she looks at things can change when she sees them from a new perspective.
Part of that is how it throws the problems in her parents' marriage, and how Shifen is aiding his parents in hiding that from Shimiao (and later Miaomiao), into sharp focus, and the attitudes in play around that rankle. She's seventeen by the time the movie really gets going, not twelve, and Shifen can't be much more than a year older than her unless high school lasts a fair amount longer in China than it does in North America. And while it's entirely possible that Shifen being trusted more than his sister(s) with this knowledge despite his acting like an immature twit is simply a reflection of the culture, one certainly not limited to China, it's one that the filmmakers seem to buy into even when they're acknowledging that there's a point where it becomes wildly impractical. They're generally clumsy talking about divorce and blended families - enough to make me wonder if this is relatively uncharted waters in that country - but the way that the filmmakers seem determined to cast Shifen as the misunderstood hero of the tale is not ideal.
Given that set-up, Zhang Zifeng does all she can to make it work, and she plays the heck out of Shimiao. The character is pugnacious and legitimately angry in much of the early going, and Zhang is tremendously funny as someone who seems right in the middle of snapping and would probably do some damage if she didn't have Miaomiao to hold her back. The film works as well as it does because she can sell Shimiao as someone her family sees as brittle despite all of this, maybe not ready to have the trust she's put in her parents undermined, cracking as she discovers there are bigger problems in her family than just her brother being a jerk. It's an impressive job of a young actor handling everything the script throws at her, even the dumb bits, and making them work.
Zhao Jinmai does a lot of the same things but it's not amplified to the same level as it is for Zhang, but she also manages to differentiate herself well, playing Miaomiao's obsessive fandom as shallow and silly but not really making it a strike against her; she's just a teenager caught up in something. Peng Yuchang is a little more wobbly as Shifen, but that comes down in part to how he's used: When Shifen is just a Tom Sawyer type, he's entertaining - Peng plays him as plowing ahead in his enthusiasm, more or less oblivious to the level of aggravation he must cause Shimiao, a carefree foil to her frustration. When things are expected to play more serious, though, he tends to come off as smug, and while that's not necessarily out of line - he's a teenager trying to do what he can for his family, not someone with actual wisdom and experience - the filmmakers don't play it as him being kind of a jerk in over his head, but a guy who deserves praise.
Director Cheng Fen-fen and her cast make it go down easy enough, though; the movie is playful more than melodramatic, and tends to work at what it's trying to do at the moment, whether it's teen-comedy jokes or earnest-enough drama. They do seem to lose their sense of direction after a while, though - as funny as the opening bits are, along with the moments when Shimiao hasn't yet realized that things have changed, the switched-up families never seem particularly important afterward: A quick bit where their classmates mistake Shimiao's focus on Shifen for something else, for instance, never comes to much, one of several things the script brings up because it can't be ignored, but never actually does much with.Cheng works her way to the finale and out well enough that watching "Go Brother!" never feels like a chore, especially when Zhang Zifeng is at the center, despite some of what she's given to work with. Unfortunately, the strong start that anybody with a sibling can relate to doesn't lead to anything extremely creative or insightful. Maybe more than can be expected from a movie for teenagers, but it's still not all it could be.
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