SXSW Film review: ‘7 Chinese Brothers’ gets a rave

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Jason Schwartzman in '7 Chinese Brothers'
Jason Schwartzman in '7 Chinese Brothers'

Jason Schwartzman in ‘7 Chinese Brothers’

“Seven Chinese brothers swallow in the ocean. Seven thousand years to sleep away the pain. She will return, she’ll return.” – R.E.M.

“7 Chinese Brothers,” the latest effort from Austin-based filmmaker Bob Byington (“Somebody Up There Likes Me”), is an uproariously funny film cushioned with melancholy.

In the post-film Q&A, Byington revealed that the key to understanding why he titled the movie is in the lyrics of the 1984 song of the same name by R.E.M. I’m not sure that the cryptic lyrics provide a lot of assistance in that regard, but when you’ve made a film this great, it doesn’t really matter.


Jason Schwartzman stars as Larry, a man drifting through his life without much ambition. As our film begins, he’s fired from his job at Buca di Beppo after being caught drinking alcohol from behind the bar and replacing it with water. While it doesn’t seem that Larry is a full-fledged alcoholic, he does often use alcohol to get through the monotony of his daily life. He spends a lot of time at home, watching television curled up with his gloriously lazy bulldog (played by Schwartzman’s own dog, Arrow, who often steals the show).

He’s become best friends with Major (played by TV On The Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe), a nurse at the assisted-living center where his grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) lives. Larry goes to visit her often in his comically dilapidated car, but it’s not entirely impossible that he goes to see her mostly because Major sells him medication from residents who have died and that he stands to earn a considerable inheritance upon her death.


After ending up at a Quick Lube location due to his frequent car problems, Larry decides that it would be a good place to work, especially once he discovers that the manager of the store is a beautiful woman named Lupe (Eleanore Pienta). His pursuit of her, like many other areas of his life, is an uphill battle.


Byington’s script is disarmingly honest, and Schwartzman’s charm and comic delivery are as sharp as ever. The strength of the entire supporting cast helps to deliver on even the most over-the-top moments. Shot entirely in Austin and loaded with a heartfelt score by Vampire Weekend’s Chris Baio, the film also features cameos by local musician Ben Kweller, Stephen Root and “Girls” star Alex Karpovsky. This is my favorite film of the festival so far and one that will hopefully gain distribution swiftly so it can be shared with as wide of an audience as possible.

“7 Chinese Brothers” screens again at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Stateside Theatre and again at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Alamo Ritz.

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