Singer-songwriter Alex (Ryan O’Nan), the main character in Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, is in a bad place. He makes his living not closing on low-level real estate deals, his girlfriend has left him, he’s been dumped by three bands in one year, and he may or may not have attacked a mentally handicapped student while dressed in a pink moose costume. His songs are as sad as he is, and there is only one person in the world who believes in his talent, and that person is Jim (Michael Weston), a psycho-seeming weirdo who accosts Alex in the park one day. Jim is a fellow musician whose band has kicked him out for being “too interesting,” and since he has already booked a nation-wide tour, he wants Alex to form a duo with him, go on the tour, and then play a battle of the bands concert at the end of the road. Alex resists this idea for a while—he’s never met the guy, and Jim is really weird—but realizes he has nothing left to lose and shows up at the house Jim shares with his foul-mouthed grandfather, ready to go.
Before they leave, Jim takes a moment to explain that he is a musical revolutionary, and shows Alex his instrument room. It turns out his music is made by cobbling children’s toy instruments together with electronics. Alex is at such a low point in his life, he accepts all of this at face value just for the opportunity to leave town with dignity instead of crawling back to his older brother as a failure. Jim “borrows” his grandfather’s car, and the two of them go on tour, where things, of course, do not go as planned. After their first gig, put on by the skeptical, but interested, Cassidy (Arielle Kebbel), they end up with 45 dollars and a passenger. Cassidy decides that her small-town life is too small, and takes up with boys, offering to sell merch and help pay for gas. The three of them travel across the U.S. and have adventures.
By all rights, I should totally hate this movie; on paper it seems like something I would not like at all: indie band road movie with a cute girl and life lessons. And let me tell you, there are a lot of things happening here that I think are real problems. The band Alex and Jim form—The Brooklyn Brothers—takes shape very quickly over a three-hour drive to their first gig. Let’s ignore the practical reality of driving and playing an instrument at the same time (a safety issue which totally makes me crazy); the songs come together like magic, so at the end of the three hours, the band has enough material to fill a set. A set which people really seem to like. There is also an unnecessary romance; Cassidy is only there as a love interest and it feels pointless. I would much rather have the focus stay on the relationship between Alex and Jim, because that is where all the fun stuff is happening. But the romance is like a lot of other things in this movie: a little too easy. Everything just slides discreetly into place—magical songwriting, gigs that appear lame turning into awesome experiences, and difficult moments becoming important lessons. It’s all just too pat. Also, there is a montage of touching moments. Really, it would be so easy to dismiss this film.
But, it’s actually kind of funny, and I found myself charmed by it against my will. I watched the DVD screener for it while I was on vacation, when I would much rather have been doing other things, and was totally prepared to hate it. (I wish I could say that I always went into a movie with a state of equilibrium and a hopeful attitude, but sadly, sometimes I am grumpy.) This is actor Ryan O’Nan’s writing/directing debut, and he does a pretty good job. There are great cameos by Andrew McCarthy, Jason Ritter, Wilmer Valderrama, Melissa Leo, and Christopher McDonald, but those performances are just the icing on the cake. The real heart of this movie is the relationship between Alex and Jim, and the performances of O’Nan and Weston. Alex wants so badly to be in a band, but cannot accept that Jim is his musical soul mate; he is restrained and sad, and Jim is maybe a little too open to any experience. The fun in this movie is found by watching the interplay between the two characters. As an added bonus, the music is actually enjoyable. A lot of movies about musicians have really crappy music; this is not the case here. O’Nan has a nice voice and I thought the songs were both funny and touching. The film’s slightly heavy on the hipster, but if you can overcome that, a fairly okay time is available to be had here. It’s a slight, but entertaining film: nothing more, but nothing less, either.
Final Grade: C+
Also, be sure to check out our interview with writer/director/actor Ryan O’Nan and actor Michael Weston.