The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best: Toronto Review

Moderately quirky road movie connects the dots a bit too plainly but gets by on personality.

Ryan O'Nan directs and stars in a road movie -- alongside Michael Weston, Melissa Leo and Arielle Kebbel -- that gets by on personality.

A road-trip musical for unjaded hipsters and their younger siblings, Ryan O'Nan's The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best treads familiar ground but has enough charm to woo viewers who don't know the genre so well they flinch at every rest stop. Solidly made (especially for a debut) and likeable even when it stumbles, it could be a modest success with younger audiences.

In what might have been the ultimate vanity-project disaster, writer/director O’Neal casts himself in the lead role as a songwriter whose material O'Nan himself wrote. Happily, though, the filmmaker can write a credible sensitive-indie pop song and has no problem putting it across on acoustic guitar.

The scruffy, red-eyed O'Nan makes an agreeable sad-sack lead as well: A failure at both open mikes and his day job, his recently dumped Brooklynite Alex finds himself boozing on a park bench one afternoon wearing a blood-soiled pink moose costume. (Don't ask.) There, he's accosted by the single fan his songs have earned, Jim (Michael Weston), who practically kidnaps Alex and proposes the two form a band for a cross-country tour.

Jim, who looks like Jeremy Renner playing a Zach Galifianak-ish man-child, collects toy musical instruments. With a melodica here and a bargain-bin sampler there, he's soon building cute arrangements for Alex's songs of heartbreak -- "kind of a Shins-meets-Sesame Street sort of thing," as one character puts it. Taking on a third passenger -- sexy would-be concert promoter Cassidy (Arielle Kebbel) -- after their first gig, they head toward California and the vague promise of a battle-of-the-bands.

With the exception of Andrew McCarthy, who arrives late in the film as Alex's brother, all the familiar names in the cast are limited to cameos. (Melissa Leo, Jason Ritter and Wilmer Valderrama all co-starred with O'Nan in last year's indie The Dry Land.) That doesn't hurt the movie much, though a more experienced actress than Kebbel might have been able to sell a part that is, like a number of the story's familiar plot points, not too convincing if scrutinized.

Still, the movie's modest quirks and its tendency not to lean too hard on any one conflict make it easy not to scrutinize the de rigueur squabbles, setbacks and lucky breaks that keep the wannabe troubadours moving West -- especially for viewers whose familiarity with road movie conventions doesn't stretch too far back beyond Due Date.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production Company: Brooklyn Brothers 5, LLC
Cast: Ryan O'Nan, Michael Weston, Arielle Kebbel, Melissa Leo, Andrew McCarthy, Christopher McDonald, Jason Ritter, Wilmer Valderrama
Director-screenwriter: Ryan O'Nan
Producers: Jason Michael Berman, Kwesi Collisson
Executive producers: Ruth Mutch, Sergio Agüero, Sandra R. Berman, Mark G. Mathis
Director of photography: Gavin Kelly
Production designer: Ola Maslik
Music: Rob Simonsen
Costume designer: Derek Sullivan
Editor: Annette Davey
Sales: ICM
No rating,  minutes