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Release Date: October 6, 2015 (VOD Platforms)
Director: J. Davis
MPAA Rating: NR
Run Time: 84 min.

Written and directed by J. Davis, the dramedy Manson Family Vacation cleverly delivers a funny and heartfelt story about two brothers at odds with one another, which is set to the odd backdrop of them following the history and philosophy of notorious criminal Charles Manson.

The film stars Jay Duplass and Linas Phillips as Nick and Conrad – two brothers who seem to be complete polar opposites of each other. Nick is married with a young son and is a partner at a successful law firm. Conrad is a shaggy, unshaved nomadic former artist who decides to stop by his brother’s house for a visit before heading out to the desert to start a new job.

The two haven’t seen each other for years, and Conrad never showed up for their father’s funeral, leaving Nick to make all the arrangements on his own. Although there’s clearly turbulence between them, Nick agrees to humor his brother and spend the days exploring the various spots around Los Angeles that were visited by the Manson, with whom Conrad has recently seemed to develop a fascination.

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This trip proves to be an enlightening one for both brothers and sets in motion an entertaining and smartly crafted journey of self-reflection and -discovery. Davis provides an ample amount of comedy in his script, but it’s the surprising twists and turns that prove to be the most enjoyable aspects of this indie romp.

Interspersed throughout the film are clips of acual interviews with Manson imparting his philosophies on life and family, and while the words of a madman may seem tough to correlate to a light comedy, Davis somehow pulls it off without being insincere or ham-fisted.

The relationship between Conrad and Nick is a complex one, and this turmoil bleeds into how Nick treats his wife and son as well, adding another of many layers onto the film. This area was the only part that felt slightly underdeveloped, as it was mentioned that Nick perceived himself failing as a husband and father, due to the trouble his son was having in school, but we saw little evidence of this.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when going into Manson Family Vacation, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. The humor is mostly dry and understated, never silly, and the strong performances from Duplass and Phillips especially aid in nailing this unique dysfunctional family story.

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