It's tough to harbor much ill will towards the indie feature Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best. For all of its silly, ridiculous hipster histrionics, the movie is a definite charmer. We divorce ourselves from a reality a little bit and just take the ride. The film's earnestness is a good part of its joy. It's like a mixing of the light and dark - embodied by the two band members and main characters - which ultimately equals something brilliantly unencumbered by the consequences of failure. The crash and burn of life and its struggles informs most everything we see but the mood taken on resists succumbing to it. Instead, the film approaches the distant celluloid magic as an alternative, however unlikely, to losing one's self in the mire. Imperfect as it might be, the result is pure and effective.
Ryan O'Nan is clearly the driving force behind Brooklyn Brothers. He wrote, directed and stars in the film, and one gets the feeling that he's largely responsible for most all of its highs and lows. He plays the main character Alex, a somewhat lost transplant New Yorker who divides his time among a day job at a small real estate business, playing musical gigs with various partners at tiny venues to just a handful of people, and performing in a pink moose outfit to mentally challenged kids at a nonprofit school. Things are, to put it mildly, not working out too well for Alex. We see him initially getting ditched by a completely incompatible bandmate (played by Jason Ritter). This seems to lead to one catastrophe after another, culminating in a very awkward meeting with a stranger (Michael Weston) in a park. When the encounter turns a bit violent, the result is an unexpected teaming of the two, mostly out of necessity. Alex sings, writes songs and plays guitar. Jim, his stalker/attacker, is a very committed musician interested only in the kinds of instruments usually given to small children (and quickly discarded). One character later in the film describes their combined sound as something like The Shins meets Sesame Street.
The plan, devised entirely by Jim, involves traveling across the country to California, where a battle of the bands competition supposedly awaits. Jim says he's booked gigs along the way. Their first stop, in Pennsylvania, leads the two to Cassidy (Arielle Kerbel). She decides, absent any invitation, to tag along, much to Alex's chagrin. Some of the interaction which follows is a bit predictable and easy but the overarching affable nature remains. These three individuals are all odd, damaged figures who carry plenty of baggage inside themselves. †This is teased during a car ride discussion soon after Cassidy joins the guys. And while the film is devoted to its light tone, the darker themes which highlight much of the underlying action resist being ignored. By the time Alex returns to his childhood home to stay with his older brother (Andrew McCarthy) and his family, it all feels like an exposed wound. O'Nan does better with quirky than poignant but his movie ably coasts along from one incident to the next.
As strange as Brooklyn Brothers can be, the issues of personal freedom and loyalty and believing in ideals all resound wonderfully within the film. I can't imagine where O'Nan goes from here, and maybe this is a neat one-off, but he's made a small gem that will probably be enjoyed more often than not and on repeat occasions. The sun-soaked look of the picture, even when unnecessarily framed in Scope, helps establish a happy, pleasant feeling in the viewer. If this is contradictory to the events which transpire, maybe we merely have to emphasize the redemptive angle a bit more. The approaches taken by Alex and Jim are wildly different, but, by the end, they seem to somehow converge into a rather happy medium that also perhaps captures much of the spirit of the film as a whole.
Arriving from Oscilloscope Laboratories in a beautiful gatefold digipak, the Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best DVD is dual-layered and number 47 in the O-Scope catalog.
It's presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, though this isn't necessarily a movie which would have really demanded the Scope ratio. Still, the progressive transfer respects the picture's very natural look and carries no significant concerns. Detail and sharpness are of a satisfactory quality for standard definition, if maybe on the lower end of expectations.
Audio is available in both English stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. The latter adds some modest fullness to the listening experience. The film's many musical scenes do sound a bit better with the additional channels. Dialogue sounds clean. Subtitles in English for the hearing impaired are optional and white in color.
Extra features are highlighted by the generous "Behind the Scenes of Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best (16:35) containing interviews with O'Nan and Weston and a post-screening Q&A/mini-concert (28:15) with the pair at the Northside Festival in Brooklyn, NY. The latter is very relaxed and information but fun. There are also a pair of quirky short films - "Tag Sale Salvation" (2:48) and "Sweet Sounds of Casio" (5:04) - made by O'Nan and Weston, as well as a quick outtakes reel which has been entitled "A Musical Moose" (3:31).
The film's theatrical trailer (2:22) rounds out the bonus material.
As usual, Oscilloscope has tacked on a collection of trailers for some of its other releases like Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, Beautiful Losers, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and Bellflower.