The opening scene of Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best finds our hero, Alex (Ryan O’Nan) hiding in the stall of a public toilet, a tear streaming down his face, a break-up note in his hand. It’s the start of a spectacularly unfortunate 24 hours for the singer/songwriter, who proceeds to lose not only his girlfriend but his band mate, and not one but two jobs. In that respect, Jim (Michael Weston) has very good timing; he observes Alex’s final set with previous sideman Kyle (Jason Ritter), and approaches him the next day with a proposal: a two-week cross-country tour (dates already arranged!), culminating in a Los Angeles battle of the bands. It’s an idea so stupid only someone with nothing to lose would go, so Alex, of course, does just that.
Brooklyn Brothers, which O’Nan also wrote and directed, is plenty twee, particularly once Jim’s musical gifts are introduced: he plays an assortment of children’s toy instruments, tiny keyboards and keytars and fake horns. It gives them an odd but interesting sound, described by one character as “something David Bowie would write when he was six,” by another as “kind of a Shins-meets-Sesame Street kinda thing.” So yes, let’s acknowledge it: hipster-haters will find plenty to loathe here. But this is a picture with its own unique, shambling charm, and its leading men are nicely matched.
Alex is wound tight, a gifted composer and musician whose hyper-sensitive lyrics are a bad match with Kyle, who writes songs about werewolves and exorcisms (all of which, he insists, are autobiographical). Alex’s recent heartbreak and lack of tangible success makes him a bit of a head case, so Jim’s relentless optimism and can-do enthusiasm offset him nicely, though Weston’s slightly unhinged quality (I doubt I’ll ever shake the image of his psychopathic hitchhiker on that terrifying episode of Six Feet Under) keeps the character sparking. Early on, a third party enters to complicate things: Cassidy (Arielle Kebbel, so enchanting in the upcoming Supporting Characters), a club booker itching to get out of Philadelphia who likes what she hears and hitches herself to their wagon.
It probably goes without saying that a hook-up is in store for Alex and Cassidy, since O’Nan is our protagonist and Kebbel is so luminescent that the camera all but has to look at her through a pinhole projector. But even if their romance is glaringly obvious, they’re such easygoing performers that you want them together, and get impatient waiting for them to figure it out themselves. Other elements of the film are equally predictable: a falling out between our heroes, a false crisis before the dawn, and a sweet, happy ending (albeit, commendably, not the one you’re anticipating).
We don’t see movies like Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best for innovations in storytelling or narrative curveballs; it’s not for what they do, but how they do it. To that end, the film has an oddball sense of humor and a good heart, as well as a mellow likability that reminded this viewer of Once (and I want this film’s soundtrack almost as much as I desired that one). It’s O’Nan’s filmmaking debut, and he’s got a gift for quirky but relatable characters and organic musical spice. This is a sweet, rambunctious charmer.
Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best opens today in New York and next Friday in Los Angeles. Last week’s Flick of the Week, The Master, widens its release today.