“You don’t know Shonzi. He’s…a lot,” Todd (Timm Sharp) tells his girlfriend Lindsay (Melanie Lynskey) about his younger brother outside his father Peter’s house, only minutes into “Rainbow Time.” The usual poo-pooing commences, but Todd isn’t wrong about Shonzi (Linas Phillips), whose adoration of Fonzie from “Happy Days” well into his late twenties is indicative of his arrested development, his room strewn with Crayola sketches and featuring a place of honor for his plastic ninja swords. As Todd informs Lindsay, this is a result of Shaun, his proper Christian name, losing oxygen in the womb when the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, perhaps aggravated further by play that involved Todd running his brother over with a car when they were both pre-teens. That knockabout relationship still remains, otherwise Todd might not know how to relate to Shonzi, but with everyone else’s lives getting so complicated around him, there’s a simplicity to Shonzi that threatens to leave him behind.
Or as Phillips, in his capacity as writer/director, cleverly demonstrates, an ability to inspire others to see their own emotions more clearly, which is what makes “Rainbow Time” so provocative. With its fair share of raunchy comedy, thanks to Shonzi’s sense of humor corresponding with a 12-year-old’s, Phillips’ second narrative feature carries itself lightly, but is about as bold as Shonzi is when it comes to delving into the increasingly knotty desires and intentions of its characters. This territory is particularly rich when Todd and Lindsay are hitting their six-month anniversary, a time when the couple will either decide to get more serious or not, and Peter suffers a heart attack, leaving Shonzi more or less in their care.
Despite Phillips’ omnipresence as the film’s driving force both onscreen and off, he’s extraordinarily generous with his characters, showing how each grow and evolve in reaction to Shonzi. You feel as everyone’s lived before the time the film takes place and will carry on after affected by their experience, with “Rainbow Time” acting as if it is a cheery antidote to the hundreds of films that flood festivals about dour dudes returning home to find themselves by spreading its concerns to everyone on screen. The casting is particularly thoughtful with Phillips taking actors like the hangdog-looking Sharp (“Enlightened”) and the intimidating Bell (“Saw”), typically typecast for comedy and horror, respectively, and utilizing their strengths while giving them the space to roam elsewhere. Lynskey, specifically, appears to be having a ball doing comedy with something to actually say, bringing the same fire to the part that she did to her role in Joe Swanberg’s “Happy Christmas,” educating Shonzi on how to properly treat women.
However, much as he shares the spotlight, “Rainbow Time” is an impressive showcase for Phillips both in front of and behind the camera, showing a considerable restraint both in playing Shonzi and writing for him. Though necessarily obnoxious at first, the character gradually becomes disarming rather than annoying in no small part to Phillips’ nuanced performance and as a director, he does well to rely on composer Heather McIntosh’s sprightly, synth-heavy score – an exciting departure for the cellist behind the music for “Compliance” and “Z For Zachariah” – that contributes to the facile and ultimately joyful way in which Shonzi sees the world. However, “Rainbow Time” is so satisfying because it doesn’t reduce disability to something that can be resolved or easily compartimentalized, eager to engage with the impact it has on families of the afflicted in both ways bad and good. Taking its lead from Shonzi, it’s got far more on its mind than it appears at first and finds beauty in its simplicity.
“Rainbow Time” has been picked up for U.S. distribution by The Orchard. It will open on November 4th.