Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best

Ryan O'Nan in BROOKLYN BROTHERS BEAT THE BEST (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Written & Directed by Ryan O’Nan
Produced by Jason Michael Berman & Kwesi Collisson
USA. 97 min. Not rated
With Ryan O’Nan, Michael Weston, Arielle Kebbel, Melissa Leo, Andrew McCarthy, Christopher McDonald, Jason Ritter & Wilmer Valderrama

Newcomer Ryan O’Nan co-wrote, directs, and stars in a small-scale romantic comedy about an unlikely musical duo that makes a go of it on a scrapped together tour across the country. From New York City to California, the Brooklyn Brothers, as they call themselves, peddle their unique sound from venue to venue, begging and hustling their way onto a variety of stages, all in an attempt to make an appearance at a famed battle of the bands at the end of the month. Remarkably, the two, who are not actual brothers, have only known each other for about 24 hours before setting out on their adventure. Both were rejected from their previous bands on the same night and resolved to dream up a new act—O’Nan, as Alex, on acoustic guitar and Michael Weston, as Jim and the funny one, on a variety of children’s instruments that range from a xylophone to a melodica (a kind of harmonium played by mouth). O’Nan’s lyrics, which he co-wrote as well, are most often darkly descriptive of the heartbreak he has just suffered after a bitter breakup.

The script is snappy and entertaining, but downright hammy at the same time. It’s very funny in parts, but most of the jokes read as obvious setups—the humor is usually over the top and unrealistic. O’Nan, as both a leading man and director, is quite conventional. Michael Weston is a nice surprise, though, pulling off his scripted comic relief with ease, and at the same time adding depth and realism to an otherwise silly character.

The cast is very good. Arielle Kebbel does a fine job as O’Nan’s love interest, though the character is one-sided at best. Christopher MacDonald and Wilmer Valderrama have a funny scene together as O’Nan’s boss and co-worker in a dumpy real estate office. Andrew McCarthy, as O’Nan’s actual brother with whom he stays while passing through San Diego, is a standout. In a script that would have otherwise skewered him as a right-wing Christian curmudgeon, McCarthy brings a complexity that had me almost believing his naysaying and anti-rock-’n-roll rhetoric.

The music itself is very good, although O’Nan’s songs all kind of sound the same. He has a great singer-songwriter voice, and the addition of Jim’s tinkly xylophone or simplistic Casio riffs gives the songs a hip, indie-rock vibe. I’m not rushing out to buy the soundtrack, but this is a film that needs a credible music score to be believable in order to validate the story, and happily it has exactly that.

The ending left something to be desired, and I won’t sugar coat it. By the end, the boys seem as comfortable being “the scraps,” as they call themselves, as they have felt from the start. It’s a little unsatisfying. But until we get to the big climax, nothing feels out of place. I believe every moment, whether it’s due to good performances or a script that plays it largely by the book. The most important moments happen between the actual brothers as they dig up the details of their past and go at each other full force. I guess I just could have used more Andrew McCarthy, and who can blame me? For a film to be simultaneously this funny, endearing, and have decent songs, someone’s doing something right here. I don’t know if the Brooklyn Brothers quite beat “the best,” but they’re worth a watch.

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