While the film industry still has quite a distance to go in the production of films that do not feature Caucasian, male, straight, developmentally typical protagonists, there has been incremental progress over the past thirty years. However, more often people who would have been relegated to one-bit stock characters or stereotypes are now multifaceted subjects and protagonists in their own films, creating a larger diaspora of representation in film. Linas Phillips’ sophomore feature “Rainbow Time,” centers around an immature, developmentally delayed man and leaves me cautiously optimistic that the industry has at the very least improved depictions of developmentally challenged individuals since the days of “I Am Sam” and “Rain Man.”
The film begins with Todd (Timm Sharp) introducing his girlfriend of six months Lindsay (Melanie Lynskey) to his family, including his developmentally challenged brother Shonzi (Phillips pulling double duty as director and actor). Shonzi, an amateur film director, develops a crush on Lindsay. Further exacerbating matters are Shonzi’s peeping-tom habits, Todd’s insecurities and the messy origin of Todd and Lindsay’s relationship. Events come to a head when Shonzi must temporarily stay with the couple after Todd and Shonzi’s father (Tobin Bell) has a heart attack.
The cast is uniformly excellent across the board with Phillips’ portrayal of Shonzi as the standout, expertly bringing to life a unique, yet at times polarizing, character. Despite being forty years old, Shonzi is stuck in perpetual adolescence, regarding women as sexual objects and unable to interact and connect with them in a social setting. It’s difficult to determine whether Shonzi genuinely lacks comprehension regarding personal boundaries, fully understands that his behavior is inappropriate, or if he’s deliberately pushing boundaries – maybe it’s a mixture of all three? It’s also clear that Shonzi has been given wide latitude by his family, which most certainly contributes to his perpetual state of immaturity. Shonzi is savvy enough to know how to push his brother’s buttons, but when he mentions an incident from their childhood, is genuinely surprised when Todd lashes out in anger at him because he lacks the awareness to comprehend the consequences of his actions. However, despite Shonzi’s off-putting and at times inappropriate behavior, he is not ridiculed and is presented as a flawed human being the same as all other multi-dimensional individuals.
Todd has his own baggage, and Sharp does a wonderful job portraying an achingly vulnerable man hiding his fetish out of fear that his girlfriend would view it as perverted, all the while feeling increasingly annoyed and angry towards his brother. Lynskey is wonderful and grounded as the well-intentioned Lindsay. It has been a joy to see her lately in films like Joe Swanberg’s “Happy Christmas” and “Digging for Fire” and Clea Duvall’s “The Intervention.” As the outsider to the brothers’ dysfunctions, Lindsay injects some desperately needed levity in addressing how to change Shonzi’s attitudes toward women. However, in her genuine desire to help Shonzi, Lindsay cannot see that Shonzi is trying to get close to her, illustrating her naiveté. Despite being the most mature character by far in the film, Lindsay is not perfect, and the gradual revelations about her divorce and her interactions with her ex-husband (played by producer Jay Duplass in “spurned ex gives no crap” mode) reinforce her faults. Tobin Bell also brings depth to his role as Todd and Shonzi’s father, deftly communicating both the love and frustration he feels toward Shonzi.
“Rainbow Time” unfolds at a leisurely pace, but feels unbalanced at times. The scenes focusing on Todd and Lindsay’s relationship are the most interesting aspect of the film, and makes one want to see more of them. It is refreshing to see two adults maturely address sexual and emotional issues in their relationship. In comparison, Shonzi’s antics feel juvenile and jarring, but fitting to his character and outlook on the world. The clunkiest moment in “Rainbow Time”is the revelation that Todd showed his brother sexually explicit videos in order to bring him out of a depression after their mother died. While the incident doesn’t feel very plausible, grief and pure desperation can lead people to make strange decisions, and the revelation certainly sheds light on Shonzi’s peeping-tom habit, boundary issues and his attitudes toward women and sex.
Despite Todd’s anger issues towards Shonzi, and Shonzi’s lack of boundaries regarding his brother’s sex life, it is clear that the brothers love each other. Shonzi, in his own way, is genuinely trying to help Todd be honest with Lindsay. His heart is in the right place. By the end of the film, it becomes clear to the audience that while his behavior is immensely inappropriate, Shonzi knows who and what he is to the world. Shonzi’s movies, in particular the one he makes with his brother, hint at a possibility of growth and change.
“Rainbow Time” presents a personal, yet impartial picture about the messy complications and contradictions of brothers, family and personal relationships, concluding with a tentative spark of genuine connection. [B]