Monday, 2 July 2012

The Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best

First time director Ryan O'Nan gives us this heartwarming tale of a group rabbled together in the search of winning a battle of the bands contest in California on a roadtrip from New York via Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Mississippi.

O'Nan also wrote the screenplay and stars as Alex, a deadbeat musician who works in a dead-end job as an estate agent yet can not give up on his dream of being a successful singer-songwriter.  After being dumped by his latest partner, Kyle (Jason Ritter - fine cameo) over creative differences; Alex writes songs of feeling and honesty, Kyle writes about sex crazed werewolves which he deems autobiographical.

After hearing one of his sets, Jim (Michael Weston) comes up with a plan for them to work together as a musical duo.  Jim claims himself to be a musical revolutionary, and Alex can write the words for them to sing.

To get to that stage of the plan being hatched by Jim; we firstly though have to navigate a tough first act of meeting Alex.  A depressed individual whose heart has been broken by Erin, a girl we never see but who wrote a letter to Alex explaining why they cannot be together.  This heartbreak causes Alex to act somewhat sociopathically when we first meet him - he dresses as a musical moose playing for mentally handicapped children.  When one child pretends to stab him with a fake knife, Alex punches said kid in the face numerous times.  Then he throws a water dispenser in his estate agent office at a threatening colleague, probably breaking his neck.

This sort of unnerving behaviour is in stark contrast to the heart-tugging music Alex is obviously capable of, and the film could have gone into darker territory.  Luckily the injection of Jim into the storyline, by punching Alex in the face, takes the film out of New York city and onto the highways and byways of America.  

Reluctantly, the two of them proceed with their dual dream of performing winning music; the scene when they compose their first song in the car whilst recording it is one of magic thanks in part to the feeling of spontaneity elicited by the musical performance and the use of Jim's toy instruments (player pianos, toy trumpets, gazoos) mixed with the natural harmonies they create.  This scene changes the film from a piece about a guy who feels sorry for himself into one that is confident in praising the value of sharing your dreams with like-minded people.

Once they get to the first gig, they attract the attention of Cassidy (Arielle Kebbel) a young entrepreneur but inexperienced tour manager who likes their alluring sound ('sounds like something Bowie would do when he was 6'); the connection between Alex and Cassidy is evident from the start and this blows into a romance until she runs off with the guys money.

This prompts the guys to break up and Alex to show up on his brother Brian's (Andrew McCarthy - yes he of Weekend at Bernie's/Mannequin) house looking for a place to stay.  Whilst Brian is over-religious and deflecting onto his genius son Jackson, Alex rekindles his belief in himself as a musician when he composes a song with Jackson at bedtime.

The inevitable final act of reformation and reunion is handled with distinction and not overdone with sentimentality; a victory for sheer belief and resilience.

A film that could have been twee and off the cuff is instead one of freedom and creativity; both funny ('I like your sound like a mix of The Shins meets Sesame Street') and engaging.  It follows in the footsteps of recent American independent road-movie films Easier With Practice (2010) and Passenger Side (2009) that are brilliantly acted, shot well (here by Gavin Kelly) and have kick-ass soundtracks.

The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best is distributed by Signature Entertainment and is in cinemas across the UK on Friday 20th July

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