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Brother of the Year
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by Jay Seaver

"Probably won't win awards, but nudges itself above average."
3 stars

The back end of "Brother of the Year" introduces a ton of new background characters we haven't seen before as it moves from Bangkok to the countryside, and it's kind of strange that I often felt like I knew where they were coming from more than the main characters, who actually go and explain themselves early in the movie. That's not to say that the main cast is bad at all, but that they are not as well-served by the story as they deserve, and it makes for a movie that's good enough to watch but not quite up to its potential.

It first introduces the audience to Chut (Sunny Suwanmethanont), a Bangkok advertising executive in his mid-twenties who has been happily living a player's life while his younger sister Jane (Urassaya Sperbund) has been attending college in Japan for the past four years. When she returns to the house their mother (Anchuleeon Buagaew) arranged for them to share a bit early, they're immediately reminded why they drive each other insane: To Jane, Chut is a gross, irresponsible jerk who only acts like a big brother when it comes to intimidating her boyfriends; Chut sees Jane as an obnoxious know-it-all who can never do wrong and got him saddled with a terrible nickname back in school. So, naturally, she immediately gets a job at one of his company's clients and starts dating her co-worker and his contact Moji (Nichkhun), thus bringing their sibling rivalry into a new arena.

That's not a terrible situation, especially since director Vithaya Thongyuyong and his three co-writers are willing to let Jane be a little harsh at times, but there's almost always something about the situation that doesn't quite seem right: Every push to get Jane and Moji together feels a bit too heavy-handed, without nearly enough passion on display to make it work, while the first scene with Jane and Chut in the same conference room seems to jump to the siblings cruelly lashing out a little too quickly. Some of the most interesting moments come toward the end, when Jane is having misgivings about the path she's choosing, but the film hasn't done much to set up her comments about how living in Japan as a foreigner is stressful, for example. It's an utterly believable thing for her to be concerned about, but the film has only given the audience momentary glimpses that she would be.

Part of the issue might be telling so much of the movie from Chut's point of view; Sunny Suwanmethanont handles the surface-level smoothness of the character well but never comes up big when he gets a chance to dive into the underlying anger in a serious manner. Urassaya Sperbund does a bit better, putting barbs on the moments when Jane isn't little miss perfect but still retaining a youthful, genuine air to match the white clothing the costumers insist upon giving her. And Nichkhun is at the very least adorable-adjacent as Moji (maybe selling the bits about his Japan-raised character stumbling over the Thai language better if you don't need subtitles), certainly an enjoyable pairing with Sperbund. It's a bit curious, though, that the actor I most want to see more of is Manasaporn Chanchalerm, who plays an intern at Chut's office and lands every line or look she's given, to the point where the writers seem to be looking for excuses to include her in scenes. It's like the people not constrained by driving the story had more room to inhabit their characters in the details.

It's still a present enough little movie, even if it never goes for either the big laughs or melodrama between the siblings at odds. There are a lot of moments that just work without a lot of fuss, and hints that there's enough going on outside the lines that a bunch was cut, such as an ex-girlfriend of Chut's whose name comes up in three or four contexts but who never becomes important. Despite that, it never truly drags despite being a simple movie that passes two hours, and it always feels like the important bits are kept. There are a number of little things that earn smiles honestly, from the different ways Jane and Chut remember him getting hurt in a baseball game to the pair having a transgendered auntie being treated as no big deal to how the movie loops back around to baseball (which isn't very popular in Thailand) for the last scene.

Plus, the last ten or fifteen minutes really work. The filmmakers pack a lot of milestones into it without it feeling like a cliche montage - indeed, one might not realize that's what they're doing until they're almost done - ending with something low-key but emotional. That last stretch tells a story about family that plays as much more universal than the one that came before, and seeming to stumble less for it. I'm not sure that any lumps in throats that may form then are entirely earned, but that part of the film is certainly good enough to get away with it.

That's a great deal of "Brother of the Year" in a nutshell - it doesn't do a lot of things as well as it could, and really should do better. It ends well, though, showing a keen enough eye for certain details that it deserves plenty of credit for what it gets right. It's a mixed bag, but one where the good pieces outweigh the bad.

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originally posted: 07/08/18 09:34:34
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  05-Jul-2018 (M)

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