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    Manson Family Vacation (2015): Movie Review

    "A deeply satisfying and straightforward journey towards brothers' reconciliation.” 

    Jay Duplass stars as a responsible and successful brother in his latest feature called Manson Family Vacation. Linas Phillips joins the film as his hopeless and aimless adopted brother. Together, they embark on a road trip to visit Manson sites which ultimately ends up in a bittersweet reconciliation and acceptance of one’s family.

    Nick (Duplass) is a hard-working Los Angeles-based attorney who has a wife (Leonora Pitts), a young son (Max Chernick) and a promising practice. He is everything his older middle-aged brother, Conrad (Phillips), is not. Considered as the family’s black sheep, Conrad is a wayward artist who takes fancy in dark and creepy subjects. He has also developed obsession to the 1960s psychopath Charles Manson. The brothers have not seen each other for a long time and Nick is thrilled when Conrad pays him a surprise visit. It turns out that the older brother has just quit his job and is headed to Death Valley where he is promised to work for an environmental organization.

    Nick reluctantly offers to drive him. However, Conrad further pushes his luck and persuades Nick to explore different L.A. locations of Manson Family murders. Nick perceives this as a quality bonding time and he agrees. Together, the two sneak into homes of the descendants of murder victims, gets high, and runs into a misadventure in a hippie commune which worships Manson. Through cult leader “Blackbird” (Tobin Bell), the two will be forced to confront certain truths and face what they might bring.

    The movie’s title may suggest a certain air of creepiness or suspense but Manson Family Vacation is really far from it. Instead, it keeps its narrative light and sustains that charmingly humorous tone throughout.

    The film can be divided into two journeys – the first is the siblings’ trip to various Manson sites and the second is their final drive to Death Valley. The initial act explores the roots and dynamics of the brothers’ relationship. There is a long-kept resentment here as Conrad, being the adopted son, felt glossed over when Nick was born. On the other hand, Conrad’s apparent rebelliousness and responsibility, especially in the face of the recent death of their father, abrades Nick. Subtly, the tension between the two is finally rising to the surface. This rings melodrama but as earlier said, the film manages to keep the anxiety low-key and the vibe cool and charming. One notable sequence during this part is when they sneaked into the Los Feliz home of the murdered couple Leno and Rosemary LaBianca by posing as their grandkids. This exercise shows how Nick can be frustrated with Conrad’s misbehaviours yet he also appreciates his unpredictability and tireless guts.

    The second journey takes on a darker and sadder tone. Here, the duo meets a group of people who adhere to Manson’s view on politics and environment. Conrad identifies himself with the group and as he is being drawn closer to them, Nick feels that his brother is drifting further away from him. It is a sad realization but the film satisfyingly ends with its touching lessons about loyalty, identity, self-worth and love.

    The film is also able to achieve emotional balance as neither of the brothers was demonized. Each has equal moments of weakness and scorn. So in the end, we root for what is good for both of them. Duplass and Phillips strike a heart-warming chemistry for their roles. While Duplass is effective as the uptight and sympathetic Nick, Phillips undeniably stands out as the mischievous funny man. 

    Manson Family Vacation is a simple family story. It may be formulaic, lacking any element of surprise, but it is a journey that successfully delivers us to a gratifying and stirring destination. 

    Production companies: Lucky Hot Entertainment, Tilted Windmills Prods., om & Pop Empire 
    Cast: Jay Duplass, Linas Phillips, Tobin Bell, Leonora Pitts, Adam Chernick, Davie-Blue 
    Director-Screenwriter: J. Davis 
    Producers: Steve Bannatyne, Eric Blyler, J.M. Logan, Josh Polon, Matt Ratner, Alexandra Sandler 
    Executive producers: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, Ray William Johnson, Kaja Martin, Michael Anderson, Samantha Kern, T.S. Nowlin, Christopher Sepulveda, Scott Trimble 
    Director of photography: Sean McElwee 
    Production designer: Erin O. Kay 
    Costume designer: Lindsay Monahan 
    Editors: Nick Sherman, Dave Boyle 
    Music: Heather McIntosh


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