‘Manson Family Vacation’ Review: Get Weird With Your Family

Posted in The Screening Room by - October 04, 2015

Manson Family Vacation is another quirky understated drama from the Duplass brothers. The plot revolves around a workaholic lawyer (Jay Duplass) unexpectedly reconnecting with his adopted brother (Linas Phillips), a bit of a black sheep who wants to go on a tour of all the Manson related locations in Los Angeles. The two butt heads over his borderline maniacal obsession with the topic of the Manson Family, which speaks thematically to the deeper divide between them. 

Like all Duplass films it plays out with a pleasing naturalism. The scenes feel well improvised and naturally acted in most cases. Phillips in particular delivers a wonderful performance as a clearly insecure man who can’t help but let his emotions get the better of him. He’s the kind of person who fights with cops for no reason, and will bring up a painful topic with a huge smile on his face. 

Also like all Duplass films, that same naturalism can work against it. Some scenes feel like they drag on a little bit, and that pacing can be frustrating at times, as you just want to get to the next plot point. There’s clearly something mysterious we don’t know about Phillips character, but the information comes at a slow trickle as we watch the brothers alternatively bond, and then get into fights. 

Things pick up considerably when the two stop driving around the city, and into the desert where Phillips claims to have a job lined up at an environmental non-profit. Something that sounds so sketchy from the get go, that it’s a wonder his brother doesn’t grill him about it harder. To anyone who knows anything about Manson, if should be clear he’s headed to visit a commune in the desert, so the long wait for that exact reveal caught me as a little strange. Once it’s revealed though there are some twists and turns that caught me off guard, and should delight anyone who’s a fan of small dramas like this. 

Despite it’s title, this isn’t a film about anything disturbing, and at points where you think it might turn, it does a good job of sticking to the subject of family, and emotional connections. Despite my problems with the pacing, a great cast and performances kept me interested until the end. I wouldn’t call it a knock out, but that’s part of the enjoyment of these small clever films. They don’t have to wow you, or throw major over-dramatized plot twists at you. It’s small,  it’s intimate, it’s a little boring, but overall I liked it.

Final Verdict: Watch It, if you’re up for something a little different  

Check out the film on iTunes October 5th or on Netflix October 27th. 

This post was written by
He holds a BFA in writing for screen and television from the University of Southern California, and has co-writing credit for the indie-as-fuck feature film All Together Now. A fan of all things entertainment, he spends his free time watching TV, reading comic books, and cataloging a warehouse full of VHS tapes.
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