Rating: 3.5/5Sitting in a bathroom stall, crying and reading a break-up letter is no way to warm up for a gig, but one supposes that alt-rocker Alex (Ryan O’Nan) has done this before. What Alex doesn’t do is self esteem, which is why he still uses an old guitar case covered in the scribbled taunts of high school classmates. It’s also why he is devastated when his current musical partner Kyle, an untalented werewolf enthusiast, dumps him at the end of that night’s show. He immediately jumps into a morass of self pity and destructive behavior, and by the time crazed man child Jim knocks Alex unconscious, we’re pretty sure Alex not only needed but deserved that ass-kicking.
It is when Jim assaults Alex that The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best can really begin. After Alex comes to, Jim (Michael Weston) proposes his scheme: The pair will join together on a pre-planned U.S. tour that ends in California at a “battle of the bands” style competition. Jim is emotionally unstable and his musical muse is expressed through plastic instruments made for children ages 6 and under, and it is no surprise that Alex is unwilling to go cross-country with this unbalanced stranger. He eventually agrees, however, mostly in a little passive-aggressive defiance against his older brother.
Thus we set off on your standard road-movie plot, complete with car breakdowns, arguments and picking up the obligatory hot chick. Yet because the real focus in The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best is the music and the two leads, the familiar plot line never grates. While the straight-line plot of Brooklyn Brothers makes it clear the moment Jim arrives that he is about to drag Alex through a journey of growth, that trip is not an easy one with a guaranteed happy ending. Jim proves that simply being shown your path by Fate — in the guise of an overgrown kid who has no problem wearing a trashbag for a cape — is not enough to guarantee success.
O’Nan stars in, directed and wrote Brooklyn Brothers as well as composed the music, and though the film thankfully never spirals into vanity project territory, it still fails to offer more than thin personalities for anyone but Alex and Jim. Reliance on the generic road trip template causes the film to lose focus, especially when Cassidy (Arielle Kebbel) arrives. Quirky in a way we’ve seen a million times before, Cassidy joins up with the duo without adequate explanation and with very little impact. More work was put into Cassidy’s hair dye and piercings than character, and while she’s adorable, she’s almost entirely superfluous.
It is curious, though, that the Brooklyn Brothers universe is so suspiciously wholesome. Situations clearly meant to be at least somewhat precarious are entirely benign; the biggest danger is Alex, especially when he’s hanging out in the park in a tattered pink moose suit, drinking heavily and asking an unsupervised little girl for life advice. And though Alex may think he is going through a kind of hell on earth, it’s very likely he has caused more suffering than he has ever endured himself.
That’s not to say Alex is surrounded by good, sane people. A series of cameos (Melissa Leo, Wilmer Valderrama, Dan Butler and others) portray life as an endless stream of encounters with crazy people saying crazy things. Yet there is at least a little wisdom in their ravings, tiny bits of truth buried amongst the hostility and delusions, and Alex slowly gains an acceptance of others that helps inform his own art. His music, while still full of loss and longing, becomes almost joyful when blended with Jim’s childlike perceptions; the film is at its best when The Brooklyn Brothers are performing for their audience.