The two stars of the alliteratively titled musical indie The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best are handily split into types: Jim (Michael Weston) is the ostensibly funny one, Alex (Ryan O’Nan) the obnoxiously sensitive one. Similarly, the film itself is evenly divided: a silly, occasionally even, mildly amusing first half followed by a sappy second, when the fun stops and shit, you know, gets real.
O’Nan’s Alex is a flailing emo singer-songwriter whose songs are, as he routinely humblebrags, “depressing.” Out of nowhere comes Jim, who punches Alex repeatedly in the face before suggesting they team up as a duo, with Jim complementing Alex’s feel-bad songs with toy instruments that do, honestly, make them sound better. In the tradition of comic pairs where only one is funny, Weston gets the best bits while O’Nan, because he wrote and directed in addition to co-starring, gets to make out with the hot chick (Arielle Kebbel), whose character sees in Alex a deep soul because O’Nan’s film is, in effect, naked wish fulfillment.
Brooklyn Brothers, when it works at all, works when it’s funny, or at least trying to be, minus a gag that means to demonstrate how far the penniless Alex has fallen by making him play music for mentally deficient kids. Weston’s manic attempt at a lovable sociopath prove welcome opposite the dour O’Nan, although O’Nan, as screenwriter, is responsible for the reasonably loopy plotting that gets Alex and Jim on the road.
The whole enterprise aims to replace the hole left by the finale of the Flight of the Conchords show. Except that Conchords never traded the absurdist tone for an empowering/emotional one, nor killed off one of the character’s family members for easy pathos. Once the film briefly breaks up the band and switches its tone over to buzzkill Alex, all that’s left is a subplot wherein a devoutly religious family gets lectured on how repressed they are because no filmmaker ever thought to do that before. Random familiar faces—Christopher McDonald, Wilmer Valderrama, Andrew McCarthy, even Melissa Leo—swing by for seconds, like shiny, distracting objects, but the tiresome O’Nan makes sure it’s ultimately his show.