Brooklyn Brothers' Shins-Meet-Sesame Street Sound 

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Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best
Directed by Ryan O'Nan

Near the end of this feel-good rock-tour movie, a dejected Alex (Ryan O’Nan) manages to give his nephew the kind of comfort any lonely preteen wants to hear: “The nerdiest kids in school, 10-15 years out of high school, they got the hottest chicks, the biggest houses, the best lives.” All well and good to tell a 10-year old, but Alex’s prediction that nerds will inherit the Earth bears little connection to his own life. Recently dumped by the love of his life, ditched by a talentless bandmate, and fired in the same day from both his office job and part-time gig dressing up as a musical moose, Alex is struggling in the New York C-leagues when fellow rock-n'-roll outcast Jim (Michael Weston) knocks him unconscious in a park, drags him home, and suggests they start a band.

Jim’s off-kilter behavior extends to his music: his instruments of choice are the toy xylophones, keyboards, vibraphones, and kazoos piling up in his room. Jim may have a musical vision, but what he needs are Alex’s songs—and quick. (“I’m a musical revolutionary who doesn’t need to write songs so I don’t write them,” he explains.) He has a cross-country tour lined up but no band or music to fill it with. Luckily, Alex sees past Jim’s manic behavior—plus he needs some career news for his brother, who keeps gently nudging him to reconsider his life choices. Thus the Brooklyn Brothers are born, picking up a manager, Cassidy (Arielle Kebbel), and working on their “Shins meets Sesame Street” sound while driving to their first gig.

Written and directed by O’Nan, based in part on his experiences as a musician, Brooklyn Brothers’ problems go beyond contrivances that hamper the plot. Unlike School of Rock, which celebrated its group of nerds and dorks by turning them into rock stars, Brooklyn Brothers mostly ignores the mantra that rock music will make you cool and save the world at the same time. Instead, Alex, Jim, Cassidy, and the assortment of other people found on tour are all grown-up outsiders who still haven’t found a way to belong, and in its best moments—the more desperate times, played with modest optimism, when Alex and Jim ponder how far they’ve gotten and whether “this is it?”—the film works within the oddball world it has created and acknowledges its limits.

In most cases, though, Brooklyn Brothers normalizes its characters' weirdness. A group of fraternity members who hire Jim and Alex to play at their frat house are intriguingly odd at first, but their party turns out no different than a scene from American Pie. Much is made of how weird the Brooklyn Brothers’ music is—and certainly a band made up mostly of Fisher Price instruments sounds eccentric on paper—but their songs come out ready-made for the softest indie-rock podcasts. Alex’s advice to his nephew, meanwhile, runs contrary to the basic notion that grounds the film at its best. Jim and Alex, after all, probably haven’t gotten very close to the most beautiful women or seen the biggest houses. Even the most basic bit of fame seems beyond their reach. They’re happy with a stage, some songs, and six people in the audience. Unfortunately, as the title I suppose should warn us, the film too often dreams of bigger things on their behalf.

Opens September 21

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