Steve Blackwood, Brian J. McDonald, Halle Curley, Silas Robbins, Natasha Darius, Sonia Cote, Bob Tourangeau, Mallory McAninch
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Movie Review: Peabrain
I'm never quite sure what to expect when a Steve Blackwood film crosses my desk. Blackwood, who appeared on Days of Our Lives for over ten years and can also be seen in such films as Cedar Rapids, Machine Gun Preacher, and the delightfully named The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, has spent a good amount of time in recent years both teaching acting and directing a wide range of indie short film projects.
Peabrain is such a project.
Peabrain is dedicated to Blackwood's father and one feels that dedication in every moment of the just over 15-minute film. The set-up is somewhat familiar yet meaningful. An adult son, Craig (Brian J. McDonald), is visiting his father (Blackwood) in an assisted living facility. The father, Phil, presents well and yet this is so often the case for those who've begun to experience a cognitive decline and are desperate to hide it. There's an obvious disconnect between Craig and Phil, though Blackwood's script allows these layers to peel away gently even as we're offered a flashback of a younger Craig (Silas Robbins) whose entire demeanor aches as we essentially learn that where Craig and Phil are now has been building up for years and is partly influenced by the past and the present.
Peabrain is an emotionally resonant film yet also a film that doesn't drown in histrionics. It feels honest and true and poignant. There are moments of stark vulnerability here and there are moments of the kind of humor borne out of unspoken pain and unresolved hurts. The chemistry between McDonald and Blackwood is strong and this allows us to fully accept their relationship and the obviously shifting dynamics. This is the kind of film an acting coach pulls out when a naive student asks "Can you really accomplish anything in 15 minutes?"
Yes, you most certainly can.
Among Blackwood's shorts I've had the privilege of seeing, Peabrain is most certainly one of my favorites and it's certainly one of my favorite Blackwood performances. The film is early in its festival run and seems destined to be popular on the indie fest circuit throughout late 2023 and 2024. Lensing by Jeffrey Buchbinder is effective throughout in capturing the film's necessary intimacy and Ken Berry's original music leans into the film's emotional rhythms without ever dominating them.
Peabrain will most certainly resonate with anyone who appreciates family dramas and/or has experienced the delicacy of the changing parent/child relationship. For those who've experienced a loved one with dementia, Peabrain will offer an intelligent story and a time to reflect.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic