A documentary doesn’t always have to be didactic in order to teach. As is true for real life, it’s often through passive observation that we learn much not only about the subject at hand, but also of ourselves. This philosophy manifests from the perceptive, fly-on-the-wall approach director Ben Mullinkosson utilises throughout his feature debut, Don’t Be a Dick About It. Taking place across one humid summer, Mullinkosson’s documentary is a wonderfully candid, wholesome and hilarious portrait of two redheaded brothers (the director’s cousins) living in Chevy Chase, the suburban Maryland town bordering on Washington, D.C.
The film is predominantly divided across two sub-narratives. These follow the brothers in their separate daily rituals and intersect at different points throughout, mimicking the fluidity of their actual lives. Matthew, the younger of the two, has an immense, irrational fear of dogs; as a form of exposure therapy, his mum takes him to a local dog park every week, pushing him to overcome his phobia. Peter, an excitable extrovert, is enamoured with the reality show Survivor, which he mimics by conducting nightly elimination ceremonies with an unlit tiki torch.
As made directly clear in the final 10 minutes through a conversation shared by the two brothers, Peter has autism. While laughs stem from his quirky personality and slightly awkward social skills, Mullinkosson approaches his cousin’s condition with immense compassion, and Peter is clearly self-aware of his own hilarity. As such, it never feels exploitative. If anything, the film wants to empower Peter for his neurodiversity. Unlike other films covering the subject, autism is not depicted as an arbitrary hurdle.
Upheld by its huge, wholesome heart, Don’t Be a Dick About It works tremendously as a slice-of-life, humanist comedy, serving plentiful guffaws through its examination of the petty conflicts – and requited love – specific to brotherhood.
CAST: Peter Mullinkosson, Matthew Mullinkosson
DIRECTOR: Ben Mullinkosson
SYNOPSIS: A hilarious and beautiful portrait of two brothers growing up. The film follows the brothers around for one summer capturing the nuances of pissing each other off.