Unfortunately bundled into the same week of release as that small, obscure arthouse feature starring Christian Bale and Tom Hardy, The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best will probably have to wait to be discovered on the small screen. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, because it’s that type of film which usually catches those less discernible viewers by sweet surprise with its winning mix of charm and whimsy.
Hapless, down on his luck musician Alex (Ryan O’Nan) can’t seem to catch a break. During the film’s opening, his truly awful singing partner wants to call it a day after a disastrous open mic evening. He is then sacked from his office job the following day when he gets into an argument about a gig he has to leave work early for. This turns out to be for an audience of mentally-challenged adults, one of whom attacks Alex with a fake knife, prompting the singer to mistakenly retaliate in self-defence.
At a low ebb, things start to look up slightly when he runs into a strange, child-man of a musician named Jim (Michael Weston) who convinces him they could potentially make a good partnership. Dragged along by his new collaborator on a lo-fi cross-country tour, the two make a surprisingly decent fist of things (“kind of a Shins-meets-Sesame Street sort of thing” is how someone describes their music) and an impressed club manager (Arielle Kebbell) whose venue they play at, decides to tag along with them on their road trip.
Pitched somewhere between a laid back, mumblecore character exploration and breezy low-budget indie comedy, The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best is a surprisingly sweet and gentle yarn, with a pleasant vibe and a star-making turn from creator and TV fixture O’Nan (who also wrote and directed the film).
It’s clearly a labour of love for the actor, and he’s been able to (briefly) call on the talents of familiar names such as Melissa Leo, Jason Ritter and Wilmer Valderrama to provide some laughs in small bit-parts peppered throughout. Former bratpacker Andrew McCarthy also crops up towards the end as Alex’s older, family-orientated brother who staunch Christian ideals are far removed from his younger sibling’s way of life. He’s very good in what is essentially an extended cameo and it begs the question, why hasn’t the actor managed to maintain a semi-solid career like the rest of his fellow 80’s cohorts? Somebody give this man a substantial role!
The film really comes to life when the musicians hit the road, and while it may adhere to that indie model which characterises the type of films its creator has clearly been inspired by, he still manages to carve out his own amiable and engaging approach within that framework. The Belle and Sebastian-esque tunes (the majority of which were penned by O’Nan) are pretty decent and even if the film is unlikely to bring it’s multi-tasking star the same kind of kudos someone like Zach Braff received for his directorial debut, it’s a confident and well-made first effort, which more that adequately marks him out as a talent to watch, on both sides of the camera.