The Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

There have been many movies made about the trials and tribulations of young musicians desperate to make it big – but not many, I suspect, which include a man in a pink moose costume getting into a fight with a mentally disabled boy.

That’s one of the opening scenes in Ryan O’Nan’s multi-hyphenate debut and it sets the tone for much of what follows – somewhat strange, not particularly PC and very funny.


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He plays Alex, an unsuccessful estate agent by day and an equally unsuccessful musician by night, playing his self-penned acoustic angst (O’Nan also composed much of the film’s music) to a handful of spectators in a series of New York venues that might be described as “toilets” if they smartened themselves up a bit.

Even this encounter with the bottom rung of the fame ladder seems to be in jeopardy when the other half of the duo, frustrated at the lack of guitar solos and lyrics about werewolves in their oeuvre, cuts him loose. Things go from bad to worse when he loses his job at the estate agency and soon after is fired from his only paying gig as a “music therapy officer” following the aforementioned pink moose incident.

While at rock bottom – swigging booze from a paper bag while still in costume and trying to call the love of his life who’s recently dumped him – he’s approached by someone who looks like a mugger but turns out to be his biggest fan. Jim (Weston) is a self-styled “musical revolutionary” who’s seen Alex on stage and is convinced that together they could be the quirkiest thing since The Flaming Lips.

Alex, not unreasonably, thinks he’s insane and wants him to go away while he sorts his life out. So Jim knocks him cold, gets his address from his driving licence and takes him back to his apartment to outline his plan for world musical domination – teaming up to form The Brooklyn Brothers.

The opening scenes have the zingy dialogue and off-kilter slapstick that recall the best moments from the comic end of the Coen Brothers spectrum, leaving the viewer as disoriented as Alex, and just as wary of the intense, socially awkward Jim. Nevertheless, Alex agrees to join him on a coast-to-coast tour of “intimate” venues, arranged by Jim for his former band before he too became a victim of “creative differences”, reasoning that it’s his only way of earning some much-needed money – and keep doing what he wants to do more than anything.

Jim’s left-field but tuneful compositions (mainly played on children’s instruments) chime surprisingly well with Alex’s soulful strumalongs and the minuscule audiences respond well. A promoter at one of their first gigs, Cassidy (Kebbel) decides to become their manager and a tentative romance begins to blossom between her and Alex.

At this point, the film seems in danger of becoming just another a feel-good heartwarmer about a trio of misfits following their dream. But a dramatic plot twist lands Alex back at rock bottom, seeking refuge with his successful, conventional brother (McCarthy) and questioning whether his dream is destined to remain just that...

O’Nan the writer and director consistently pulls an unexpected development or a priceless piece of dialogue from up his sleeve, ensuring you never lose interest in the tangled lives of a flawed but basically good-hearted main trio – and poking entertaining fun at over-earnest musos, gormless southern frat boys and Bible Belt prigs along the way. It does somewhat run out of steam towards the end, relying on a very hackneyed climax followed by a somewhat underwhelming close. But there’s much fun to be had along the way.

All three leads (veterans of the classier end of American telly and small roles in bigger-budget fare) acquit themselves well and the impressively starry supporting cast are rock solid. McCarthy’s presence may well prompt a twinge of rheumatism in those who remember him as the fresh-faced Brat Packer from St Elmo’s Fire et al, but his performance is subtle and moving, embodying the siren voices telling Alex that perhaps it’s for his own good he realises he isn’t that good, and if at third you don’t succeed there’s no shame in jacking it in.

For all Alex’s many flaws, you will end up rooting for him and Jim to get back on the road again – and in a case of life imitating art, the two actors have been signed up by Warner Bros to do an album and tour as the Brothers. I’m not sure I’d be queuing up to book my ticket but, as is often the case in such films, you don’t have to like the music itself to appreciate the basic desire to be creative and do what you feel you were born to do.

Combining the low-key charm of Dublin busker tale Once with the (b)romance elements of The Fabulous Baker Boys and a touch of [film id=17297]The Blues Brothers'[/film] anarchic spirit, it may not be an all-time classic but it’s certainly left me intrigued to see what O’Nan’s follow-up effort might be.

Reviewed on: 10 Aug 2012
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Two musicians go on the road.
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Director: Ryan O'Nan

Writer: Ryan O'Nan

Starring: Ryan O'Nan, Michael Weston, Arielle Kebbel, Andrew McCarthy, Jason Ritter, Wilmer Valderrama, Christopher McDonald, Melissa Leo

Year: 2011

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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