Ryan O’Nan’s Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best (Sep 21) is a coming-of-age film about two solo musicians’ last attempt to make their childhood dreams come true. It begins with Alex (O’Nan) leaving his nine-to-five for a gig serenading, in a moose costume, a group of handicapped teenagers—one of whom attacks Alex with a fake knife. He retaliates by punching the teen in the face. When he meets Jim (Michael Weston), they put together a DIY set list described as “the Shins meets Sesame Street” (they are fans of toy instruments), rejecting the security of office jobs for a makeshift tour that brings them in front of a slew of small crowds at unpredictable venues (and one large venue, when they tell the booking agent that Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots is in the band). We spoke to writer-director-star O’Nan as well as co-star Weston about their contagious bromance.
How has it felt to see this project through from initial idea to completion—all of the festival screenings and the reception. How has the response been?
RYAN: You know, it’s been wonderful. It’s a scary thing to put something together and you hope that people will like it—and you put someone like Michael Weston in it, who is hard to like in the first place. But the reception has been wonderful—it was actually more than I ever hoped it could have been. And the response from the different demographics and generations has been really neat. I was actually really surprised by the baby boomers’ reaction—because that is the generation that actually got into a VW and drove across the country.
The first description of this film that I read was “a bromantic Once if it had been directed by Cameron Crowe in his prime.” How do you feel about this description?
RYAN: I can’t even imagine a better compliment.
MICHAEL: He uses the word bromantic a lot in his daily life.
RYAN: A comparison to Once I think is the highest compliment I can think of—that’s one of my favorite music movies of all time. And Cameron Crowe is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. I grew up on Say Anything; I absolutely adore that movie. And Almost Famous is also one of my favorite music movies of all time, so I feel like, fuck, that’s a very sweet thing for them to say.
This is a coming of age film. Do you see coming of age as a sad thing, or at least a sad reality?
RYAN: Mike hasn’t quite hit that yet.
MICHAEL: Yeah, I’ve got a Peter Pan complex. But yeah, it’s a great coming-of-age story in terms of people realizing their dreams and going for them. It’s a very useful perspective on stuff—and as you get older, it’s hard to balance out the passion of those dreams and the practicality of life. And you know, in this movie both characters are—actually right now we’re standing on a street corner and I can see Ryan, and it’s really distracting because he keeps touching his balls.
RYAN: I’m distracting him… You know, the thing about the film that I was attempting to do—you know I played music for years and years, and lived in these borderline-windowless vans. And you know, somewhere along the line you come to realize that it’s not about some end result—it can’t be, because the end result is such a small portion of the arts or the dream you have. It’s the process and the journey that you fall in love with, and all the little failures along the way. I love the little failures. They are dearest to my heart.
I know you were a musician when you were younger, and this film has a very raw and believable feel to it. How much of this is based on your experience? Was it pretty easy for you to get into character?
RYAN: You know there’s heightened elements for sure. Some of it is definitely based on my emotional experience and a lot of people that I grew up with in the music scene. And my brother is also a fantastic musician; I kind of used him as a muse a little bit. Parts of it are real: I was on tour one year and we actually played a place called the Theta Beta Potato House.
RYAN: For real, man. I woke up… I don’t remember… no, we were in Iowa City. We had been driving forever, and we were on some residential street, and I was like, what the hell? Are we playing someone’s house? And they were like, I don’t know man, the address is weird. And we pulled up to this dilapidated mansion and it had that big Theta, Beta, and a potato symbol, a mock frat house that these punk kids had co-opted. And they just threw shows there and nobody got paid, and it was just such a fucking blast. And my drummer at the time did wake up naked next to some random person the next morning.