Guys like Ryan O'Nan give struggling artists a bad name. In The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, O'Nan plays Alex, a going-nowhere musician and miserable piece of shit. A scruffily bearded white dude, he works in a low-level New York real estate office during the day, plays sad-sack acoustic folk in empty clubs at night, and walks around with the deflated body language of someone who feels entitled to a bohemian lifestyle he's not actually living. He likes to warn listeners that his music is highly depressing, but it's better described as neutered and self-pitying. He carries a handwritten breakup letter with him everywhere and slouches alone in the park, quietly screaming out for someone to ask what's the matter—an in-the-flesh incarnation of the person who writes vaguely suicidal Facebook status updates every few hours just to read their friends' concerned inquiries.
Don't worry, though. He'll be fine. If you've seen any recent quirky independent comedy about mopey twentysomethings, then you already know affirmation is just an impromptu cross-country road trip away. And considering O'Nan wrote and directed the film, you know he'll be doubly OK.
Through a series of serendipitous events, Alex finds himself on tour with Jim (Michael Weston), a songwriter with a fetish for toy instruments. On the car ride to its first gig, the duo hatches its sound, later described as "the Shins meet Sesame Street." The movie treats this as a novel creation, ignoring that half the indie-pop bands of the past few years could be described the same way. Nevertheless, wherever the group performs—a bar, a rooftop, a Revenge of the Nerds-style frat house—the crowds sway in approving unison. One woman, a pouty blonde named Cassidy (actress-model Arielle Kebbel, unconvincing as a Pennsylvania club promoter despite her totally rock-'n'-roll nose ring), is so impressed she joins them on the road. She and O'Nan eventually fuck, because everyone knows morose losers who can't get over their girlfriends are irresistible to Maxim pinups.
At that point, it becomes clear that Brooklyn Brothers is little more than a vanity project for O'Nan—who also wrote the soundtrack—and an inroad toward a musical career of his own. And what do you know? The Brooklyn Brothers are now a real-life touring concern, coming soon to put an entire venue to sleep in a town near you.
Critic's Grade: D
SEE IT: The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best opens Friday at Hollywood Theatre.