‘Brother Nature’: Film Review

Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
'SNL'-style comedy flourishes outside the TV studio setting.

'Saturday Night Live' executive producer Lorne Michaels rounds up some of his cast and crew for an R-rated comedy co-starring Bobby Moynihan and former 'SNL' regular Taran Killam.

With his notable run portraying politicians like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan on Saturday Night Live, Taran Killam makes a good fit to play a conflicted Congressional candidate in a feature comedy for producer Lorne Michaels, who has decades of experience spoofing the American political landscape. Except that Brother Nature is more about relationship dynamics both romantic and bromantic, which might represent a bit of a missed opportunity during the current electoral cycle. Michaels’ imprint and the name cast should bring out SNL loyalists though, as well as comedy fans who’ve seen castmembers in features as diverse as Grown Ups 2, The Hangover and the Wet Hot American Summer series.

Killam plays Seattle congressional staffer Roger Fellner, who finds himself anointed the likely successor to Rep. Frank McClaren (Giancarlo Esposito) when the veteran politician decides to retire and urges his protege to run for his seat. Thrilled to be chosen to assume the mantle of his mentor, Roger agrees not to discuss the plan until McClaren can publicly announce his resignation. Meanwhile, Roger prepares for a vacation with his girlfriend Gwen (Gillian Jacobs) and her family at their rustic lakeside retreat in the mountains. He’s particularly excited about the trip, since he plans to propose prior to Gwen’s extended trip to Asia promoting libraries and literacy.

Just as soon as they arrive at her parents Jerry (Bill Pullman) and Cathy's (Rita Wilson) charming vacation compound, he’s ambushed by burly boy-man Todd (Bobby Moynihan), a full-time camp counselor and outdoors enthusiast, who’s a favorite of the family and the boyfriend of Gwen’s sister Margie (Sarah Burns), which makes him Roger’s probable future brother-in-law. Like the awkward kid overeager to make friends, Todd has an entire weekend of male-bonding activities planned, just when Roger would rather be chilling out and enjoying some personal time with Gwen. Any romantic aspirations are dashed however when a couple of skunks befoul the couple’s cabin and they’re forced to shack up with Margie and Todd.

The more Roger tries to avoid his overly familiar new best-bud, the more Todd imposes himself on Roger, digging for details on his relationship with Gwen. When Roger discloses his elaborate plan to surprise her with his marriage proposal, Todd confesses that he’s been thinking of popping Margie the question and suggests dual engagements, but it’s about the last thing Roger’s prepared to consider at this point. Todd’s not one to give up easily though, redoubling his efforts to win over his prospective new brother-in-law.

Gwen’s family will surely be recognizable to audiences familiar with gatherings were at least one among the relations seems to be trying to top all of the others with some outrageous behavior or attitude. In this case though, Todd has managed to endear himself with his unrestrained enthusiasm and lowbrow humor even before becoming a family member, setting a bar that uptight Roger can’t even contemplate, let alone appreciate.

Killam, who recently departed SNL after six seasons, shows a great grasp of his character’s escalating bewilderment and frustration, particularly after an unfortunate fishing accident has even Gwen questioning Roger's ability to fit in with the family. He’s no match for outsized outdoors lover Todd, however, as Moynihan’s bombastic brand of humor is only matched by his unlimited energy. Pullman and Wilson may well be the film’s most persuasive representatives, however, demonstrating laidback, folksy humor that helps ground some of the more outrageous moments.

Killam and co-writer Mikey Day have created a lovable antagonist with Moynihan’s character, although the sheer scale of Todd’s inappropriate behavior begins to wear a bit thin with the repetition of indignities he imposes on Roger. SNL regulars Matt Villines and Oz Rodriguez make advantageous use of the production’s spectacular Oregon lakeside setting, devising any number of affronts to frustrate Roger, from errant wildlife and vicious insects to ridiculous boating and swimming gaffes.

Audiences will get a chance to reassess the Killam-Moynihan dynamic when they appear next year in Killam’s directorial debut Why We're Killing Gunther, an action-comedy starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Production companies: Broadway Video, Insurge Pictures
Cast: Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan, Gillian Jacobs, Bill Pullman, Rita Wilson, David Wain, Sarah Burns, Ellen Bloodworth, Giancarlo Esposito, Kumail Nanjiani, Kenan Thompson
Directors: Matt Villines, Oz Rodriguez
Screenwriters: Taran Killam, Mikey Day; story by Cameron Fay
Producer: Lorne Michaels
Executive producers: Erin Doyle, Sam Grey, Hilary Marx, Jenny Hinkey
Director of photography: David Robert Jones
Production designer: John Lavin
Costume designer: Julie Carnahan
Editor: Kelly Lyon
Music: Mark Maxwell

Rated R, 97 minutes