It doesn’t matter how you package it, love and family do nothing but unnecessarily complicate our lives. The sticky web of both stretches far in Mark Schwab’s drama, Brotherly Lies. Our tale opens in the beautiful Northern California family home of brothers Lex (Pano Tsaklas) and David (Robert Sean Cambell). After surviving a traumatic event, a nervous breakdown, and a suicide attempt, Lex retreated from life in LA to recover with his best friend, Kenny (Jose Fernando).
Here’s where the drama begins. During his recovery, hopeful screenwriter Shane (Jacob Betts) moved into Lex’s guest house, and in the process, Lex developed romantic feelings for him. But Shane has been secretly eyeing the married Kenney, who has been living apart from his husband for months to care for Lex. Now add to that Lex’s widowed neighbor, Henry (Mark Schwab), who lost his husband years before and has a crush on Lex.
The home’s unspoken romantic tension is turned on its head with the arrival of David and his fiancé, Laura (Casey Semple). David is a prominent Hollywood actor, and his presence triggers memories of Lex’s trauma. In addition, a sizeable stash of MDMA starts to lower the inhibitions of the roommates during a house party.
The setting of Brotherly Lies is perfect. While sequestered in a home in the woods, our characters are allowed to escape their lives in the real world. Now in isolation, each person must either act or not act on one’s carnal impulses. A love triangle is too simple. Here, we have a love pentahedron.
“After surviving a traumatic event, a nervous breakdown, and a suicide attempt, Lex retreated from life in LA…”
Our story also plays out like a very complicated soap opera. From the start, the characters engage in a series of one-on-one conversations, pairing off in secluded corners of the house. Lex doesn’t know how to tell Shane about his true feelings toward him. Shane confronts Kenny about the flirting that has been going on for days. Kenny, in turn, is in a committed relationship and plans on adopting a child. David is an actor who needs a big project to jumpstart his career and thinks Shane might be the perfect writer to take on his life story.
But I do need to point out a few shortcomings the film has. The acting sometimes feels stilted, which happens in many indie films with dialogue-heavy stories. Conversations are long, and there are a lot of script pages to pour through, and if Brotherly Lies is like other indie productions, there was not time to get every conversation perfect. Pulling off scripts like this requires an extraordinary amount of rehearsal and preparation — a luxury most emerging filmmakers don’t have.
The only other issue I have is the sound. I think it’s fair to say a lot of work was done on the audio in post-production, whether it was heavy sound correction or massive ADR. That said, I’m sure the choice was between clarity and quality. Clarity won out.
There’s a lot to admire about writer/director Schwab’s Brotherly Lies. First, he beautifully blends romance and drama from beginning to end. He also manages to create seven characters with distinct personalities, backgrounds, and motivations, which is difficult to do when the spotlights shift from character to character as the narrative progresses. Lastly, the romance feels real, sometimes sappy, but real nonetheless. Look, I’m no expert in gay romance, but Schwab masterfully balances the sweetness of love with its countering desire.
Good storytelling wins out in Brotherly Lies. At its heart, the story is about the semi-estranged relationship between brothers Lex and David. Two men who are bound together solely by blood. As the night goes on and tensions rise, the secret of Lex’s trauma is exposed, fundamentally changing everyone in the end. If you’re a fan of romance and intrigue, be sure to add this to your movie playlist.
For information about Brotherly Lies, visit the Diamond In The Rough official website.
"…good storytelling wins out..."