Rhys Handley Sheffield Doc/Fest

Doc/Fest 2019: Don’t Be A Dick About It review

★★★★★

Brotherhood takes a lot of patience. Such is the nature of masculinity as a collective construct that fraternity can be at once one of the most powerful and fragile of bonds. Autistic 23-year-old Peter and his teen brother Matthew live a relatively comfortable life in an affluent Maryland suburb, but the turbulence that defines their relationship surely resonates among brothers around the world.

Director Ben Mullinkosson noted the cinematic potential of the volatile dynamic between his two cousins and, in Don’t Be A Dick About It, renders it lovingly to create a charming and often hilarious documentary-comedy hybrid.

The two boys are distinctive and imminently watchable characters. Matthew’s phobia of dogs and his steady attempts to overcome it give the film a gentle emotional arc to follow, while Peter – a loveable bear – is an endlessly fruitful scene-stealer. The older brother’s over-the-top reenactments of his game show Survivor, in which he imagines members of his family as contestants to be voted off when they wrong him in day-to-day life, are a periodic source of delight throughout the film.

Understandably, Peter’s immutable fixations, as well as a consistent stream of naive faux-pas and pratfalls, are as much a source of frustration for Matthew as they are a source of entertainment for us. Matthew’s life often has to fit around Peter’s more rigid requirements and there’s a melancholy sense that the younger brother is well on his way to emotionally outgrowing the older, whose childlike sense of enthusiasm is for life.

But Mullinkosson’s approach is innately humanistic, refusing to simply exploit Peter’s oddness for cynical laughs – the film’s abundant humour stems from his dopiness and likeability rather than any mocking or spite from his family or peers. The director is also sure to include plentiful scenes of pure, genuine affection between the pair – birthday gift-giving, joyous bear-hugs and days at the aquarium – as well as making sure the wider family unit is portrayed on the periphery of these two considerable personalities as a good-natured support network.

Shot over a single summer with the hazy tinge of a pop-punk music video, Don’t Be A Dick About It is drenched with the ephemeral nostalgia that comes with capturing a specific moment in time. It’s clear that Matthew’s days in the house are numbered while Peter, happily holding down a job as a mascot on the local basketball team’s cheer squad, is perfectly content in his stasis. These boys are about to drift apart and Mullinkosson captures the impermanent delight and innate sadness of their present situation which, given the volatile nature of brotherhood, will weather a number of tests in the coming years to prove its strength. Peter and Matthew though, with their grudging respect and earnest love for one another, are hopefully in good stead.

Sheffield Doc/Fest takes place from 6-11 June. To see the full programme and to buy tickets visit sheffdocfest.com

Rhys Handley | @RhysHandley2113