Throwing their guitars into the back of a car and rolling into a venue near you are The Brooklyn Brothers, starring as they do, in The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Beast. An all encompassing feature for writer/director/star Ryan O’Nan whose Alex character is half of the titular band. The other half of the playground folk pop duo, Jim (Michael Weston) is not his brother and by their own admission the name “sounds like a black funk band from the 70’s”. There was however, little time to discuss name suggestions in the hasty assembly of the act.
Alex is a down-on-his-luck songwriter in all ways a songwriter can be – failing to earn a living through music, failing to find a 5th audience member for his bands shows even, a band he subsequently gets booted out from by a caricature of a lead guitarist. He is also suffering from a broken heart, a crushingly fruitless job as an estate agent and sidelining as a pink moose performing songs to mentally challenged children. At a similar dead-end is Jim who forces, quite literally, his way into Alex’s life. Having been a quarter of the audience at Alex’s previous gig Jim detects in him a kindred spirit of sorts whose less than positive songs work perfectly for his taste “fuck positive songs, positive songs are for hippies”. Jim doesn’t quite share Alex’s levels of misanthropy but equally views the world as an outsider looking in. He also possesses an impulsive energy that kick-starts the unlikely formation of the band, immediately embarking on an already booked tour for Jim’s previous band (one that he too was kicked out of) and culminating in a surely redemption filled battle of the bands competition. Without a thought for Jim’s sickly yet aggressively mannered granddad they pinch his beloved rusty car and set off on their hair brained scheme.
We are passengers on an American road trip so we get all the usual out-of-window sights – farms, meadows, cloudy skylines and stretching highways as our drivers plough mile after mile simultaneously trying to get acquainted and write songs. Jim’s inability to play actual instruments has lead to him owning and mastering a series of child friendly toy versions. While in the driving seat he tunefully bashes away on pre-school keyboards, xylophones and accordions as well as strapping an amplified kazoo around his neck. While perhaps not being the soundest driving advice, it seems to be a fruitful song writing method as the lo-fi recording set-up churns out catchy playschool tunes laced with Alex’s darker lyrics.
So charming they are they attract the attentions of Cassidy (Arielle Kebbel) a booking agent at their first venue who sees a glint in their eye and a way out of town as she joins the pair becoming road manager. Her description of their music as “what David Bowie would write if he was six” is not quite as accurate as “the Shins meets Sesame Street” one that comes their way later on, either way it’s a sound not unfamiliar to ones you would usually find in these types of films.
Of course each of our protagonists has something they are running from/ searching for which makes for a film that at times delves into many a sub-genre from road movie to romantic comedy and buddy movie to a belated coming of age tale, few styles are off limits. Despite this it seldom sees overstretched with O’Nan doing well to keep us interested in the relationships between the leads. Elements of the humour are at times a bit too broad and, the scenes with Alex’s real estate colleagues in particular, painted on a bit too thick and while offering nothing new in terms of plot surprises (each one you can predict from some distance) there’s a charm about the characters and the unlikely central pairing that keeps us entertained. The dialogue between the two band members holds the majority of the wittiest and sharpest lines as O’Nan tends to get the balance of laughs over shmultz about right.
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