Manson Family Vacation

***1/2

Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

Manson Family Vacation
"The inevitable schmaltz may be a little too saccharine for some, but the premise is unique and the situations dynamic enough to elevate this a little higher than it seems at first glance."

The Manson family wasn’t biological. The best part about it, as Conrad says, is that they sought each other out. Siblings don’t have that luxury, even when serendipity has a hand in the proceedings. Conrad is the adoptive brother of a strict military father, brother to a successful and straight-laced lawyer; he bumbles back into Jeff’s sporting a formidable hobo beard and a mad glint in his eye. He’s only planning to stop over for a day, see the locations of the Manson murders, and then carry on to his new job as an environmental activist in Death Valley.

If only life were so simple. Manson Family Vacation is a snapshot at the bickerings of two estranged brothers. There’s the usual friction here; one is a big shot, the other a layabout, one has a family, the other carries around a dog-eared copy of Helter Skelter that belonged to his father; they disagree on ideologies of death and family. Jeff was very much the apple of his deceased father’s eyes, their parents blessed with a miracle shortly after adopting Conrad, which leads to the latter being forced out. So far so-so, but the twist here is obvious from the beginning: Conrad looks like Charles Manson because he’s his son.

The bulk of the film follows the brothers' trip towards Conrad’s ultimate goal of joining the family, and meeting his true father. There are tender scenes as Jeff struggles to come to terms with his brother’s obsession, the guilt he feels for treating him poorly as a child, and the genuine love he feels for him despite Conrad’s carefree, chaotic attitude. Linas Phillips is a standout, bubbling with counterculture energy, endlessly optimistic and childlike in his approach to life, but with the deeper philosophical leanings of a man with an artistic streak. He is the perfect foil to Jay Duplass, and the pair make this a resoundingly heartfelt affair.

The inevitable schmaltz may be a little too saccharine for some, but the premise is unique and the situations dynamic enough to elevate this a little higher than it seems at first glance. A bit of subterfuge when visiting the LaBianca house shows the pair at their best, and is resolved in a way that highlights the restrained and sincere scripting. It’s not the most electric representation of a difficult relationship, but it gives a competent, off-kilter delivery of a warm message.

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2015
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Two brothers tour Charlie Manson murder sites.

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