Brother Nature offers absolutely nothing new.
Over the summer, veteran cast member Taran Killam was axed from “Saturday Night Live” with one year remaining on his contract. Killam never rose to the star-power level of direct predecessors like Bill Hader, Fred Armisen or Jason Sudeikis. In the Michaels-produced Brother Nature, Killam struggles to find his footing as the lead. Co-written by Killam, it arrives in limited release (and VOD) at a rather awkward juncture for its star.
Killam plays Roger Fellner, a fledgling straitlaced politico who has the chance to run for a Washington State congressional seat vacated by his retiring boss (Giancarlo Esposito). This impending political announcement inconveniently overlaps with Roger’s vacation—a trip with his girlfriend, Gwen (Gillian Jacobs). There they intend to spend a week with her family at their lakeside lodge, where he also plans to propose after getting her parents’ blessing. The rub is that the vacation also means he will have to meet Gwen’s sister’s boyfriend, Todd (Bobby Moynihan), an overzealous, Farley-esque camp counselor who’s dying for a surrogate brother after growing up with six sisters (“all lesbians”). Despite Todd’s obnoxious antics, everyone in the family is enamored of him, even as his constant bumbling throws a kink into Roger’s romantic and political plans.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because Brother Nature offers absolutely nothing new. The political element and retreat to a cabin in the woods calls to mind Black Sheep, and Todd’s meddling and unwanted friendship—at the price of the fastidious straight man’s sanity—mirrors the impact of Bill Murray’s titular character on Dr. Leo Marvin in What About Bob?. Meanwhile, run-ins with wildlife amid a hectic family vacation also harken to The Great Outdoors. Those movies, despite their flaws, each manage some lowbrow belly laughs. Brother Nature’s stilted writing and played-out gags rely solely on the likability of its cast to elicit even a fleeting chuckle.
Under the Michaels production banner, it’s no surprise to see the cast brimming with familiar faces, including many current “SNL” cast members (though there’s a dearth of alums). Moynihan has yet to enjoy a cinematic breakout role. That’s unlikely to change based on anything here, although he does imbue Todd with enough heart to at least make the character endearing—and far more interesting than Killam’s vanilla-to-the-core Roger. Bill Pullman and Rita Wilson are on hand as Gwen’s lusty, happy-go-lucky parents, and comedic character actors like Rachel Harris, David Wain and Sarah Burns help round out the rest of the adults in the family. Kenan Thompson pops up now and then to chew the scenery as a superfluous caretaker/medicine man (or something), and Aidy Bryant enters late as a cheesy TV reporter. The only side character who really lands is the deadpan-as-ever Kumail Nanjiani as Roger’s assistant, a passive man who lives in constant fear of his overbearing mother (“It’s her birthday today, which is why there are no birds singing”).
The likable cast helps Brother Nature avoid utter pointlessness, but that’s really the film’s only virtue. There’s not much to recommend here beyond a random Netflix watch on the laziest of Sundays. But there’s unfortunately not much to hate either—the film is simply too slight to be worth the effort. Killam is gone from “SNL” now, but he has a directorial debut on the way next year (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, no less). While his future may still be bright, his swan song under Lorne Michaels turns out to be a lame duck.