Ryan O’Nan’s directorial debut, The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, in which he also stars, is an Indie film in the true sense of the phrase, and is a fun romp through both the road trip and coming of age genres, set against the framework of a music film.
O’Nan plays Alex, a struggling singer-songwriter stuck in a sucky band and two even suckier jobs. Having recently gone through a bad break-up, Alex’s life gets completely turned upside down when, over the course of 24 hours he is kicked out of his two-piece band by his doofus band mate (a perfectly moronic Jason Ritter) and fired from both of his jobs. He gets canned from one job in a Real Estate office run by Jack (Christopher McDonald), for throwing a full gallon-sized water jug at the obnoxiously bro-y Jason (Wilmer Valderrama). Later in the day he gets the axe at the second, a gig that calls for Alex to dress up in a bunny suit and sing songs to mentally handicapped kids, when one kid pulls a fake knife and Alex proceeds to punch the kid in the face – repeatedly.
It’s tough to imagine things getting much worse, until Alex is accosted in the park by the strange, creepy, and potentially stalker-ish Jim (Michael Weston), who excitedly tells him that he saw Alex’s show the night before, knows that Alex got kicked out of the band, and that he wants to form a band and go on tour – he’s even got all the dates lined up.
Alex may refuse to entertain the offer at first, but really, who are we kidding? Of course he’s gonna go on “tour” with Jim – which is where all the fun begins. Jim is a self-described musical revolutionary who can’t write songs (which is where Alex’s skills come in). His “instruments” are actually toy instruments, and he makes music by recording and looping certain melodies in order to construct a digital, synthy wall of sound, to which Alex’s guitar and vocals make the perfect compliment. The scene in which they perfect their sound – as they drive to their first gig – is as perfect as this film gets.
Along the way they pick up a tour manager/merch girl/hanger-on in the form of Cassidy (Arielle Kebbel), who at various points creates both opportunities and problems for the Brooklyn Brothers (as Jim has taken to calling the band). Although the ultimate goal toward which Alex, Jim, and Cassidy are driving is a battle of the bands competition in California, this fact doesn’t save the film from feeling, at times, directionless, and lacking in drive.
It’s not unusual for road trip movies to possess a defined episodic structure, but The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best mistakes episodic storytelling for storytelling without a sense of urgency. Greater sins have been committed to celluloid (or, um, HD video?) to be sure, but this doesn’t change the fact that aside from a few unfortunately brief moments of greatness, The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best too often finds itself lagging behind, as if merely waiting until its next great ‘sign post’ moment. Usually these moments revolve around the music created by Alex and Jim, which certainly makes sense given the role that music plays in the film. That said, it is frustrating to be teased with these aforementioned moments of greatness, only to consistently find the rest of the narrative lacking, or unable to reach for the same heights.
Indeed the film comes perilously close to going off the rails altogether when (as must happen) the band breaks up, and Alex continues to California to spend time with his square, conservative, religious older brother Brian (Andrew McCarthy) and his impressionable young son Jackson (Jake Miller). O’Nan makes a major misstep here, where he confuses Alex’s relatively uninteresting and unestablished desire to reconnect with his brother, for the film’s very clear need to get the band back together and to get to the battle of the bands. In the end, nothing of real import (as it pertains to the film’s ultimate goal) is accomplished, which is a very unfortunate misstep indeed.
Is The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best a great film? No, it is not. Is it an at times entertaining film that aspires to great heights, occasionally achieves moments of transcendence, but ultimately settles down somewhere in the middling territory of a ‘good to average’ flick? Very much so. The music is great, and almost all of the actors are on point. O’Nan has talent as a director, and given more experience, could really blossom into great filmmaker. There are certainly worse ways to spend an hour and a half of your day than with Alex, Jim, and Cassidy – especially if you’re an Indie film and Indie music fan.