The Boys in the Family
Writer-director Joshua Lim uses space and our modern-day observations of it as a way to preset his view that God does not exist and as a way to present his views on atheism and we really see this when Nick Flanigan (Craig Johnson) quotes Christopher Hitchins to his younger brother, Steve (Michael E. Pitts) telling him that life here on earth as compared to the vastness and emptiness of space is proof that there is no God.
Nick has moved back home from college to help his mother now that his father died of stomach cancer. He works as a personal trainer at a local gym. We are never told what Nate was studying but we get an idea when he asks his mother about her dream of becoming a fashion designer that she gave up for the more practical vocation of nursing, and it’s a wonder if he’s as much asking for himself as he is for her.
Steven Flanigan (Michael E. Pitts), Nate’s older brother left home when Nate was still in high school to study pre-med in Maryland because he wanted to be a doctor. With the death of his mother that has devastated Nate, he comes home.
The film is set in the days immediately after their mom’s funeral and Steven stays with Nate in their family home and helps to take care of his younger brother. They both take time off work and school to grieve and to remember their lives together. They especially think about the days when they stopped talking to each other.
Ray (Jefferson Rogers), Steven’s boyfriend, comes to visit when Nate is unable to function due to the grief he feels over his mother’s death. We immediately sense the love that Ray has from Steven but it does not appear to be reciprocated.
The film also looks at Nate’s love life that now he can explore with both parents gone. Before his mother’s passing, Nate hesitantly tells her he’s not straight. He never says he’s gay but only says that the love he has for someone is untraditional. He is so obsessed with this love that he feels he cannot live without him and this is the major cause of his depression. We see Nate acting in childish ways and Steven treats him as a child so much so that Steven has to constantly hold and pacify him. We learn that even before the death of his parents, Steven had to treat him as an infant. Once we learn who is the object of Nate’s secret affection, we understand why the romance is doomed even before it begins. It is a taboo not only because of who it is but also because Nate always wants what he can’t or shouldn’t have. We see that he hangs onto something because it’s there and not for any substantive reason. Instead of a film that deals with maturity and dealing with consequences, this becomes a film about childish desires. The film does not confront the taboo but instead skirts the issue. Director Lim is bold enough to bring the issue up but does so when it is already over.
Of course, I realize that I have not yet told you what this taboo is evne though I have given a few very strong hints. Let’s say it is about an unusual and unlikely gay relationship. The acting is wonderful all around and you will be left with a great deal to think about including why I began this review talking about atheism.