If one were to take portions of "Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best" out of context, I could easily see the reaction being one of minor ambivalence as it would most likely appear to be yet another poorly crafted sketch comedy piece on delusional hipsters and their artistic endeavors. Unfortunately, despite being billed as largely a comedy, "Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best" is a deadly serious but good intentioned independent comedy that tries its best, repeatedly to pass itself off as something fresh and original. Written, directed, and co-starring Ryan O'Nan, "Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best" feels painfully out of place in the world of 2013. O'Nan and Michael Weston are the titular "brothers" who more specifically make up a low-rent, indie music act based around one member's largely silly gimmick and the other's earnest, soulful lyrics; roughly this translates to 98-minutes of faux introspection fused with disposable "indie" music. All overt negativity aside, "Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best" is a film held back by its unwillingness to not be as brave as it could.
The film flounders in every act, although despite featuring the most truthfully earned laughs, its most apparent in the film's haphazard set-up. To make a long and needlessly convoluted premise short, O'Nan as Alex, one half of a "quirky" indie music act; naturally he's kicked out for not "getting it" and hopelessly flounders between jobs ranging from low-level office drone (the sequence features two pretty decent cameos from Christopher McDaniel playing yet another insufferable jerk and Wilder Valderama easily one-upping McDaniel) and costumed singer for groups of the developmentally disabled. The latter scene gives viewers hopes of a pitch black comedy ahead for reasons I won't spoil, but instead Alex meets up with the eccentric Jim (Weston) who has an idea for a touring duo; the catch is, some of Jim's instruments are children's toys.
As the film steadily trudges along, the film quickly morphs into every hackneyed, "low-budget" indie comedy you've ever seen. O'Nan's script has a message, but it doesn't truly become clear until the tonal curveball thrown in the third act. The addition of Arielle Kebbel as Cassiday, who joins the duo as a manager and obvious (to the viewers) love interest for the sad-sack Alex, is the laziest addition to the story, serving the most basic purpose in the story and without spoiling the details of the ending, the minute she comes on screen, you can guess exactly how she plays into it. The film's music that bridges the gap in what little story is being told is entirely forgettable and honestly, grating on the ears.
In terms of performances, O'Nan and Weston are wholly serviceable, but the limited material only provides them with a few moments of raw emotion and connections to the audience. Strangely, the most compelling performance comes from Andrew McCarthy as Alex's polar opposite brother, but by the time we are introduced to the clash of lifestyles that results in the two seeing each other again, the film is pushing us to an ending that is barely set-up by the inclusion of McCarthy's character in the first place. As clunky as the ending of the film is, it's here that I really began to take notice of O'Nan's unwillingness to be more daring in his writing and directing is what makes a perfectly average film seem insufferable. The film's themes, doing what you love and to a lesser extent, family extending beyond blood, could never be mistake as original, but when properly handled can resonate greatly and there are moments in the film (namely the scenes between O'Nan and McCarthy) where this spirit is affecting, but elsewhere, they are lost in the shuffle of conforming to the trend of uninspired independent filmmaking and the result is a visually dull, musically inferior and merely mildly (at best) interesting experience.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer retains the look of a low-budget indie comedy; colors at a glance appear natural overall, while detail is merely average at best. Contrast levels feel a bit off, but nothing glaringly bad is an issue. Overall, the film's transfer falls somewhere towards the upper echelon of TV comedy, but the digital noise/grain levels are natural enough and the colors warm enough to retain a film like quality.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track really shines during the forgettable, but technically competent performance sequences (as well as other musically backed sequences). Dialogue is entirely clear and cleanly mixed in with the natural soundscape of the film. An English stereo track is present as well as English SDH subtitles.
To be honest, despite my overall ambivalence (and at times, minor disdain) for the film, I would have loved a commentary track from O'Nan. Instead, a nearly 30-minute Q&A with O'Nan and Weston satisfies those curious for some insight into the film. A "making-of" featurette is as disposable as most tend to be. The short films "Tag Sale Salvation" and "Sweet Sounds of Casio," both the products of O'Nan and Weston are interesting diversions and tie into the actual film, while an outtakes reel and the original theatrical trailer round out the bonus features.
I'm definitely not delusional in understanding that "Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best" will likely speak to some audiences; it's a very safe film that tries to be more daring in its third act and in the process, leaves the critical impression that it's a flawed film with minor strokes of greatness. Rent It.