SOHK.TV notes on...
THE BROOKLYN BROTHERS BEAT THERyan BEST O’Nan
Words... Simran Hans Design... Avalon Lyndon
Ryan O’Nan has mastered the art of the mash-up. His directorial debut, The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, is a kind of mash-up in and of itself: one part musical and two parts indie road movie, O’Nan’s first feature is a sweetnatured love letter to struggling artists everywhere. O’Nan stars as Alex, an idealistic twenty-something and aspiring musician. Locked into a mind-numbingly dull office job by day, Alex spends his evenings escaping the daily grind of mediocrity by playing in a sub-par two-man band by night. That is, until the band’s lead singer decides to call it quits and dumps him. Predictably, his girlfriend and his boss follow suit. Relegated to a crushing existence of performing in schools for mentally handicapped children, and all the while dressed in a pink moose costume, Alex’s life is nothing short of a disaster. However, his gratuitous brooding is soon interrupted by the relentlessly exuberant Jim (Michael Weston), an eccentric fellow musician. Upon hearing about Alex’s recent musical break-up, Jim cannily suggests they team up and make for Los Angeles, in the hope of winning a Battle of the Bands-style competition. Strapped for cash and frankly out
“O’Nan’s warm optimism is a
welcome breath of tender-hearted humanit
of ideas, Alex reluctantly agrees, and the pair embark on a road trip across the country, from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, California. The first half-hour is a mixed bag of ropey one-liners, petulant whining and overwrought set-piece slapstick, but when Alex and Jim finally set off (in an appropriately decrepit car, loaned to them by Jim’s grandfather), something magical happens. America’s sprawling landscape acts as a kind of trigger, rousing the boys and their creative impulses, and they decide to have a jam session. What could be twee is sweet, and wholly unpretentious – a credit to O’Nan who, as well as directing and starring in the film, also wrote the screenplay and the film’s
music. The music of the Brooklyn Brothers is hardly life-changing (in fact, it’s described as “the kind of thing David Bowie would write, if he was six”), but The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best isn’t about music. Not really. It’s about learning to be good at doing what you love; simply by doing what you love. It is the band’s earnest love of performing and unashamed lack of polish that wins over rock chick Cassidy (Arielle Kebble) at a show in Pennsylvania. Intrigued by their “The Shins meets Sesame Street” sound and tempted by the lure of life on the road, Cassidy decides to tag along for the shenanigan-filled ride, assuming the role of band manager.
Together, the three of them, only sometimes successfully, attempt to navigate the murky waters of the underground music circuit, and find themselves bullshitting their way out of some seriously awkward situations. Among the band’s naysayers is Alex’s conservative, church-going older brother Brian (aptly cast as Andrew McCarthy, of Eighties bratpack fame), who mocks Alex’s artistic compulsion to follow his dreams. This is crystallized neatly in one particularly adorable scene, where an impromptu jam session with Alex’s nephew evolves into a fully-fledged song about monsters, a kind of quirky musical philosophy lesson. O’Nan’s warm optimism is a refreshing break
from today’s climate of economy over aestheticism, a welcome breath of tender-hearted humanity. Though it is at times formulaic, the film ends on a high note. O’Nan, champion of the underdog, excels at capturing what it feels like to have a calling, and what it feels like to follow that calling, however wildly ambitious it may be. Trivial, perhaps, but tinged with sweetness and a raw authenticity, where The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best lacks in depth, it makes up for in heart. Imperfect, sincere and inexorably heart-warming, O’Nan’s first feature is much like the Brooklyn Brothers themselves. It’s life imitating art, and you couldn’t hate it if you tried.