Richard Buonagurio’s Stage Brother has me torn, because part of me doesn’t want to believe that it’s actually a documentary and not some really dysfunctional performance piece. Telling the story of his sister Jennifer’s journey to become a Playboy Playmate, or other potentially porn-friendly celebrity, Richard manages to document his family’s descent into estranged dysfunction. The question I’m left with, however, is “why?”
He addresses the concern early on, expressing his hopes that by documenting what could be a questionable career path for his sister, he’ll somehow bring things to light in a way that all can benefit; keeping the camera rolling will bring the family together as opposed to tear it apart. At a certain point, however, the camera exacerbates the cracks in the family which, let’s be honest, is the least surprising thing to happen. Which is why I keep wondering if it was actually real; how could anyone think that filming his family, to the extremes where they are actively shouting at him to stop, would bring the family together?
For me, it’s these ethical questions and the mysteries surrounding the very need for this film to exist that are far more intriguing to ponder than Jennifer’s journey from New Jersey to Los Angeles to audition for Playboy. For all her bravado, Jennifer seems to balk at almost every turn when it comes time to actually move forward on something she’s been talking about; she assumes an entitled position in almost every scenario, not realizing how much of a small fish she really is in that Hollywood pond. Sometimes you wonder if she thought that by just saying, “I want to pose for Playboy,” it would make it happen.
Which brings us back to Richard. Why is he managing his sister’s career? Is it simply to protect her, as he says, or is he getting something more out of it (such as, I don’t know, this film)? And while his admission that seeing his sister naked at one point arouses him could be considered creepy (at least he’s honestly addressing it, because you know someone was curious), it comes nowhere near the off-factor of his end-film insistence on a 1970s porno ‘stache and sideburns look. Hits the nail a little too hard on the head with that one.
All told, Stage Brother is intriguing from any angle you look at it. If you think it’s fake, it adds a new conversation. Think it’s just exploitation, there’s another debate. When all is said and done, it at least elicits some conversation in whatever direction you’re willing to take it, and that is to be praised and appreciated.
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