>> Fantastic Fest/AICN Secret Screening #1: The Brothers Bloom

Rian Johnson almost does for romantic comedies what he did with the noir thriller in Brick, creating a labor of love that pays tribute while also turning conventions askew.  The Brothers Bloom is a con man movie, that, for an extended period of time, acts as a pretty loveable romantic comedy.  It does this so successfully that you hope it doesn’t slip into the conventions of the con man film, where every action until the credits roll is calculated as part of the grift.

Rachel Weisz is a revelation as Penelope Stamp, a lonely heiress with an encyclopedic skill set and a desire to experience new adventures.  She’s the mark for the Brothers Bloom, played by Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo, and their silent partner Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi).  The brothers subscribe to the ideal that no con is worth pulling off unless every party gets what they want.  They’re after Penelope’s cash, fulfilling her desire for storybook adventure in the process, but the younger Bloom (Brody) wants more than that.  He’s smitten by Penelope, fighting back guilt, but also fighting with his identity.  Is he destined to keep chasing the next grift, or will he ever be able to truly connect to another human being besides his brother Steven?

In spirit and in execution, The Brothers Bloom has the feel of Wes Anderson’s best work.  It’s easy to picture Luke Wilson as Steven and Owen as the younger Bloom, with the same script and locales, replacing Johnson’s name above the credits with Anderson’s.  That’s no knock on Johnson at all, just an observation.  I like Anderson’s voice, and I’m going to like any film that could exist in the same universe as Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums.  It walks the same fine line as Anderson, cute while never cuddly, with characters that peer over the edge at cartoony, without ever taking the plunge.

Weisz is absolutely the most charming thing about The Brothers Bloom, which is saying a lot in a movie filled with this much charm.  The scene in which Penelope experiences her first kiss is wonderful, and she’s given a handful of moments like this.  The romantic parts of the film, where Penelope and Bloom fall for each other, is the real meat and potatoes of the movie.  It’s just too bad Johnson loses sight of that.

The film ends up climaxing about a half hour too early, as the romantic threads tie up, and then the con takes precedence over anything else.  The truth is, no one in the audience at this point can really care all that much about the con, because all we care about, all we were told to care about, is the relationship between Bloom and Penelope.  Once that reaches its resolution, the story is over, like it or not, and the confidence game starts to feel like a chore.  For one thing, the grift itself is never made 100% clear, and it simply doesn’t matter after a certain point.

I loved most of this movie, though, and it feels nice to love something, if only for a while.  As a romantic comedy, The Brothers Bloom works quite well, but as a con man movie, it’s only okay.  Johnson doesn’t quite find the balance, instead shifting priorities wholesale to the detriment of the overall film.  I’ll hold on to the parts that I like, and forgive the parts I don’t, and look forward to the next attempt from Rian Johnson’s growing talent.

7.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

(Special thanks to Aint It Cool News for making this screening possible.)


1 Comment

  1. I completely agree with your review. I felt that Johnson just couldn’t quite escape the trap of the con man movie, where it’s de rigeur that everyone (including the apparent marks) is conning everyone else, and the “real” end of the con comes only after five different reveals. You are right that the pace was rather off because it hit its emotional climax well before the end and then made us sit through a lot of stuff that essentially no longer had any real resonance. Still, the lead performers were very appealing, and I like the director’s one-degree-skewed-from-reality POV. I would’ve welcomed a couple of more quirky and “just because” bits like the one-legged kitten in the roller skate.

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