‘Half Brothers’ Is An Empathetic Buddy Comedy That Examines the Struggle For the American Dream
December 4, 2020
There is nothing like a road trip to put an untested relationship on trial. Half Brothers is that trial for two brothers who’ve never met prior to their father’s death. The film embraces a lot of buddy comedy tropes: an odd couple, a road trip, bonding over a shared adventure. But the film also sheds new light on the tried and true genre. Renato (played by Luis Gerado Méndez, of recent American cinema fame in Charlie's Angels) is a die hard Mexican who loves his country, and his newly discovered half-brother Asher (played by Connor del Rio) is a hapless American who only seems to speak a few sentences of Spanish. All they have in common is a mysterious dying father, Flavio (played by Juan Pablo Espinosa), who never told either boy the full truth about his past.
While Half Brothers is rooted in meeting expectations of the genre, where it shines is when it falls in unexpected territory. That’s in large part thanks to writers Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman. Cisneros tinkered on the story idea for some time: “The impetus was wanting to explore what it feels like to be an immigrant, coming from Mexico and coming to the U.S.; it’s tough to communicate what your experience is like to people living back home.”
In the film, Renato and Asher must both deal with the consequences of their father emigrating to the U.S. for a better life. His choice, while well-intentioned, creates a ripple effect for his kids. Cisneros experienced something similar. “When I was a kid, my Dad moved to Mexico City from Monterrey for a job so he could provide for five children. I didn’t understand at the time and could only understand as an adult.” Flavio’s sons must also learn to understand him better as a parent and forgive where, in their eyes, they feel Flavio went wrong.
Cisneros and Shuman wanted to ensure they got the experience of crossing the border and immigrating to the U.S. just right. While the film is a comedy at its core, it does not shy away from more dramatic moments like Flavio facing down ICE and ending up in detention. The filmmakers worked with RAICES to ensure all details were accurate.
“Ultimately, this is a story about empathy,” says Cisneros. “We wanted to know when people finished reading the script that the heart of the story connected, and that people could both laugh at the brothers’ journey and feel moved by Flavio’s sacrifices.”
To retell Flavio’s journey of coming to America, the recently deceased father of two leaves his sons with a myriad of scavenger hunt clues, sending them on what, at first, seems like a wild goose chase, but in actuality is sending the young men on the same route Flavio had to travel to establish himself in his new country. “We thought it was a fun way to literally have the boys walk in their father’s shoes,” Shuman reveals. And it is. As the two young men get closer to discovering the reveal of a mysterious key their father left behind, Flavio’s journey becomes more intense, and reveals more of why Flavio kept secrets from the two young men in the first place. And, as one might expect, the journey begins to bring Renato and Asher closer together.
While this is undoubtedly the story of two brothers finding a thread of connection in a sea of differences, it is often Flavio (Espinosa) who steals the film. His journey to America is the drama the comedy needs to hang its hat on, and Espinosa (best known in the states for a turn on Narcos) can bounce between comedy, drama and breaking your heart with the deft moves of a seasoned professional who has conquered comedy and drama many times over.
Nevertheless, Cisneros and Shuman’s passion for both the subject matter, and the buddy comedy, pulls through. Shuman says the pair spent hours obsessing over the genre and consuming every buddy comedy in their path. Cisneros offered the advice, that when tackling heavy genre, make sure to add your own twists and turns. “Always try to make sure the audience doesn’t see things coming.”
The pair did just that when throwing a goat into the mix. The road trip for two adds a third when the brothers go on the run from some men who clearly have unsettled business with Flavio. Asher takes on the goat as his own, and finds unconditional love from the animal while still trying desperately to win over Renato.
In spite of Renato’s seemingly impenetrable exterior, Flavio’s memory is too strong to leave anyone related to him in the dust — even if one of them always comes with a goat. It’s a lovely reminder that once upon a time, the American dream embodied the same spirit, and if Renato and Asher can find that spirit, maybe the country will find it again too.
Half Brothers is now showing at select drive-ins and available on PVOD.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/