Welcome to the first of what’s bound to be a legendary series of articles. I have awesome taste in movies. Some of them, everyone loves, like “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Django Unchained”, and of course “Drive Angry“. Others are less well known, like “Safety Not Guaranteed”, “Dirty Work”, and of course “Drive Angry”. This series of what’s bound to be a legendary succession of articles will focus on those lesser known movies, and me trying to convince you to see them. With no further ado’s, let me introduce you to “Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best“.
The Brooklyn Brothers has been an important and transformational movie for myself, and my fellow state lines co-founder Adam. In fact, you can even give the movie at least partial credit for the existence of this website. There is a punk rock mentality to not only the plot of the film, but also how it was made, all the way down to the DVD packaging. I hope that if you read this, my love for it will come through in my words. And, I truly hope you seek it out and try to watch it. You can find it on iTunes, or on Amazon, but as of this writing it is not yet on Netflix. So… Who are the Brooklyn Brothers? They are Alex and Jim, an unlikely folk/baby toy/punk band from Brooklyn and New Jersey. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. If you truly want to know who The Brooklyn Brothers are, we have to start at the beginning of the movie (Oh, and by the way. Spoiler alert. But what’s to spoil, really? It’s a road trip buddy movie. They make it to where they’re trying to get, and they learn some stuff on the way).
It all starts in a bathroom. The crappy kind of bathroom, at a dive bar in Brooklyn somewhere. Alex is hiding in one of the stalls, legs pulled up to his chest clutching a letter close and reading it with sad eyes. It’s a classic “Dear John” letter. And if you’re following along, yes, it is a “Dear John” letter on the john. Sitting in front of Alex is his guitar case, which he’s had since he was young. On that guitar case is a sticker of an alien with a talk bubble saying “I’m gonna rock your world.” The talk bubble is scratched out by a red pen, and written next to it, in that same pen, is something I don’t want to type. It’s the kind of thing kids write to make fun of the weird kid in class. The alien. Alex’s despair is interrupted when someone knocks on the door and says “Are you ready Garfunkel?”
The next scene is the first of many musical moments in the movie. Alex is playing acoustic guitar on a stage next to some d-bag playing an electric. He’s one of those d-bags who doesn’t know he’s a d-bag, so somehow he’s not a loser. We all know the type. Anyway, Alex is strumming his guitar and letting some sad lyrics slide out into the room, gently hitting the ears of the one person watching them. After the chorus, the d-bag gets a verse. It’s obvious that the two men write separately, and then shoehorn the song together. Because the d-bag starts singing about werewolf sex and zombies and other things that don’t make much sense. The one listener promptly leaves. We then smash cut to Alex and the d-bag outside the bar, where the d-bag kicks Alex out of “the band.” He doesn’t think Alex is any good, and remarks that it’s weird that he sings songs about moths. This rejection is apparently a common theme for Alex, always unwanted, and left out. He retreats to his room and plays and sings his sad songs, a scene which has to have played out multiple times for him. And, for us, probably. When the world crushes us, hopefully we all have that one place we can retreat to and totally be ourselves. Since this movie is about Alex, you know it will get better at some point, but it has to get worse first.
Alex shows up to his soul -crushing job (where he works for the awesome and underused Shooter McGavin and with Wilmer Valderrama, in a hilarious cameo), and is quickly fired for his awful performance, and desire to leave early to play a ”gig”. The good news is, he’s now free to play that “gig”, which turns out to be dressing up in a pink moose costume and playing music for mentally challenged kids. Halfway through yet another sad song, one of the kids brutally attacks Alex with a knife. Unbeknownst to Alex, and us, the knife is fake. So when Alex the musical moose defends himself by punching the handicapped kid, he is fired and asked to never return to the school. He finds himself in Central Park, still in his costume, totally crushed and without a musical outlet. He meets a young girl and has a philosophical question about life, and really what the movie thinks about life. He wants to know how the little girl can like her life. She’s happy because she likes to play. And that’s just the problem, Alex, the musical moose, or weird rock n roll alien, has no place to play. Enter Jim.
Jim was the guy in the bar watching Alex play, and through a serendipitous moment, finds him in the park. And Jim is kind of crazy. Turns out he is a musician too. His specialty is basically every baby toy ever made. Small half Casio keyboards, bells, toy accordions, one of those keyboards you blow in to, and other bizarre instruments. He tries to get Alex to play with him, but Alex is on the phone with his ex and not having it, so Jim does the only thing he can think, and throws a right cross that knocks out the poor musical moose. He takes him back to his apartment and proceeds to lay out his plan. It seems Jim, too, is recently band-less. Before he was kicked out of his band, for being “too interesting” (which sounds better than too weird right? I think we’ve all felt that way) he plotted a tour that would cross the United States and end in California at a battle of the bands. Rather than admit his life has crashed around him, Alex decides to try one more time. Jim makes a very convincing argument. He says ”we’re the scraps”. They’re the alien and the baby toy expert. They’re us, the weirdos.
They hit the road, unsure of what they’ll even sound like together. And from the moment they play their first note, it’s clear they are a match made in heaven. As someone strictly talking about the movie, what they sound like is perfect for the narrative. They are weird, and they are outsiders. Jim’s baby toys somehow give Alex’s sad lyrics a bit of levity. But speaking as a music lover, what they created is truly something fun and special. Watch this.
The movie chugs along at a good pace. We’re treated to a ton of great musical moments. There’s a funny Scott Weiland gag, they pick up a love interest (Cassidy) who becomes their manager, there’s a hilarious story about a dog named Jimmy Johnson that you simply have to hear to believe, Alex keeps obsessing over his letter, and the boys have some fun and grow closer. Then comes the moment in all of these kinds of movies. The moment where things go bad and the main character has a decision. Press on, or revert to old ways. The Brooklyn Brothers are deserted by their manager/the love interest, and she steals all their money leaving them penniless and unable to continue their trip. They stop on the side of the road and play some music and try to earn some money. Problem is, Alex says, no one is listening. Alex is fed up and wants to quit. Jim has a great moment that is another key to the film. He says maybe people listening isn’t the point. Which is infuriating to Alex, because what could possibly be the point of making music if not for people to hear? Jim says “Maybe this is it. I mean, you sing songs about Moths…” This frustrates Alex, who has heard people complain about the moth lyrics before, but Jim continues. “I love moths! They’re ugly little worm creatures that crawl into their cocoons with promises of metamorphosizing into these beautiful butterflies. But when they come out, they’re still ugly. And now they’re blind, and they fly into lights and shit. Those little dudes, they keep on trucking. There are no free rides man, if we can’t handle roughing it a little and carving our way out of here like old Apache warriors, then what are we doing? Cause it seems like right now, we are doing something most people will never do in their entire lives.” Alex replies “I don’t think being homeless is a goal of most people.” Jim says “I think it is. I’m not saying drunk, starving, piss on yourself homeless. I mean people that sit at their desk for 8 to 10 hours a day, and then they sleep for 9 hours, and then they truly live their lives for, I don’t know, maybe 5 hours, I think those people would love being here. They would love it. Not knowing what’s coming around the corner, not knowing what’s next… They would love it.”
Alex doesn’t buy it. Or is too chicken to buy it. So he leaves Jim. Jim says “How are we going to win the battle of the bands? I can’t do it by myself.” Alex replies saying “We were never going to win. We don’t win. ” and retreats to his older brother Brian’s suburban home. There, we meet his young 10 year old nephew Jackson. In Jackson, we get a glimpse at what a young Alex was like. He’s smart, thoughtful, really in to monsters, and weird. He sits alone at school because the other kids don’t understand him. Most people don’t understand aliens after all. We are then treated to one of my favorite musical moments of the movie. Alex and Jackson write a song together from a monsters perspective. See, monsters are so used to being hated by people, they instinctively try to push people away before they themselves have a chance to be rejected. But the twist of the song is, this monster has finally met someone who isn’t afraid. They look the monster in the eye, and take him for what he’s worth. Alex is singing about Jackson, young Alex, and old Alex. They are the monsters, the aliens, the musical moose, rejected by the world. In Jim, Alex has found someone who is a kindred spirit. Another alien and weirdo. He just hasn’t really realized it yet. It isn’t until Cassidy tracks Alex down and tells them Jim is in trouble. His grandfather passed away, but as a tribute, Jim is still planning on playing the battle of the bands by himself. And the worst part is, the portion of the show he’s scheduled to play in is the death metal portion. Those guys will rip him apart after one look at the baby toys. It’s at this point that Alex finally realizes something. And he gives a speech to his brother that sums up the movie.
“Brian, need your car. For the last year and a half I have been dressing up in a skin tight pink moose fleece. And playing music in front of preschools, and nursing homes, and half way houses, and classrooms full of violent, knife wielding mentally handicapped people. And I’ve also been working at a very low rung real estate office in which I’ve experienced some of the most gross, soul crushing mediocrity a person can experience. But I do it, because for one day a week, for about twenty minutes, I get to get up on stage in front of six, seven people… At the most! And play my stupid little songs. And to tell you the complete honest truth, as pathetic as it might seem… It fills me. And I’ve only met one other person in my entire life like that.”
Alex makes it to the show, but they don’t get in. The bouncers violently eject Jim giving him a bloody lip. Alex and Jim then retreat to the outside steps to lick their wounds, along with all the other oddly dressed people unable to get in to see the death metal bands. Alex hands over the Dear John note that he’s been obsessed with, and lets Jim use it as a napkin (A not so subtle sign that he is ready to let go of his past). Alex then tells Jim to look around. He says ”This is it. Look at these people. They’re the scraps.” Jim says “You’re right. If you think about it, if the battle was about them getting to play for this weird ass group of people, then we totally won”. Alex agrees “I mean, that’s just.. Math.” Then The Brooklyn Brothers play one last set, on the steps outside of the battle of the bands, for the scraps. That’s how the movie ends. With Alex, and us, realizing that it’s ok to be weird. It’s ok to be that alien on Alex’s guitar case. In life, we just need to find those kindred spirits, the one’s who really get who we are. And go for it. Trust in yourself to make something different, and awesome. Don’t wait for it to be given to you, because you’ll wait forever. The world is full of people who do the same thing every day, and the world is ready for you to try something different.