Overview: Nick Morgan (Jay Duplass) is a family man and successful lawyer in Los Angeles. When his estranged brother Conrad (Linas Phillips) shows up with a plan to visit a number of infamous Manson Family murder sites, the brothers take a trip that leads to revelations about themselves, each other, and modern-day Charles Manson enthusiasts. Netflix; 2015; Not Rated; 84 minutes.
The Elephant in the Review: Manson Family Vacation is a weird movie. Exploring familial bonds through the depiction of various infamous murder sites is admittedly a strange, daring choice, but films like this one are exactly why I love the Duplass Brothers so much. Who else but Mark and Jay Duplass would be crazy enough, and have the financial means, to help make something like this comedy a reality? The Duplass Brothers are subtly carving out a place in cinema as the most reliable team working in the independent film industry today. Movies like this one don’t get made every day, but as the Duplass brothers get more popular and critically acclaimed, let’s hope they keep helping films like Davis’ happen. The film has its weak spots, with the big twist at the end in particular being as predictable as they come, but it’s all right as the shocker-moments aren’t what matter in a film such as this one. What matters is emotional fulfillment, and there’s plenty of that.
Bonding Over Murder: Jay Duplass is great as the biological son, a family man who had a close relationship with his father and never let his parents down, but it’s Linas Phillips as Conrad, the adopted, oddball-artist brother, who really shines. Phillips plays Conrad with a hint of insanity. He giggles with glee at murder sites, and harbors an intense fascination for Charles Manson, going as far as to call him “Charlie,” while remaining lovable and relatable. When Conrad talks about feeling ostracized as a child, you believe every word he says, and you share in his anger and sadness. As the story progresses, Manson Family Vacation becomes an increasingly heartwarming (and darkly comedic) character study about two brothers reconnecting as they tour places where horrific crimes once took place. It seems the more the brothers explore the Manson Family murders, the closer they become to one another.
Overall: With strong character arcs and enough heart to charm even the gruffest viewer, J. Davis’ new comedy makes for a solid viewing experience.