Do we really need another film about underachieving white men with scruffy beards? Ryan O’Nan thinks so. He directs and stars in Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best as Alex, a struggling too-artsy-to-keep-an-office-job musician who heads from the East Coast to California to finally pursue his dreams with his bandmate, the hysteric but not hysterical Jim (Michael Weston). They pick up a few strangers along the way, such as the plucky Cassidy (Arielle Kebbel), and also pick a few fights. It’s sort of like The Wizard of Oz, and just as nuanced. Here funky girls have pink hair, funky guys have pink and blue hair, and those who represent the stiff non-artistic mainstream are Bible freaks who don’t believe one should utter the word “homosexual” in front of children. The music is pretty good, though it overwhelms the film functioning as its transitions, concept, and content.
The film has, at its source, a pool of affectations that so often constitute, or plague, American indie films—and, perhaps, American culture more generally. These affectations come from a resistance to the unpredictability of human emotion, replacing feeling and spontaneity for the various ersatz mechanisms of defense we use against them. O’Nan creates creatures whose gestures feel rehearsed and whose utterances are canned, but he doesn’t seem to have anything to say anything about that. The Doom Generation was also a film about kookie characters with kookie hairdos on a road trip, but Gregg Araki’s awareness of their artifice made for a commentary about it, a commentary that, unlike the characters themselves, felt alive, palpable, and profoundly pleasurable. O’Nan’s film achieves this kind of critical liveliness in one single moment, when Alex asks his uptight brother how it feels to finally say something he actually feels. For the most part, though, Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best is stuck with the literality of dichotomous characters (international finance versus artistry, Bible versus guitar, property tax versus on the road) for whom suffering is being bored or living with Grandpa.