Who’s Ryan O’Nan and why does he deserve GIFF’s Rising Star Award? See The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best (Sat. March 31, 6:30 p.m., Muvico Centro Ybor), and you’ll find out why. He directed it. He wrote it. He stars in it. He wrote — and sings — the songs for it. All of which might sound like the worst kind of vanity project, but Brooklyn Brothers is absolutely not that. A road movie with music, it’s disarmingly funny and touching and, in the best sense of an over-used word, quirky.O’Nan, kind of a Bradley Cooper with soul, plays Alex, a down-on-his-luck singer/songwriter who literally gets socked in the nose by fate in the person of Jim (Michael Weston), a crazy-eyed visionary with a roomful of toy instruments who convinces Alex to join him on a dubious concert tour on the way to a battle of the bands. They’re soon jamming on Casio keyboards and other kiddie toys in an orange VW Rabbit more or less stolen from Jim’s ornery grandfather; they meet a lovely but possibly shady young concert promoter (Arielle Kebbel); and before long, their unlikely partnership seems like it just might succeed, their music (described by one character as “kind of a Shins meets Sesame Street”) even winning over the guests at a loopy Southern frat party. O’Nan manages to be convincing both as the saddest sad sack in the world and as a man intensely committed to his music, and Weston is a kinetic, compellingly watchable presence, a real find.
O’Nan also gets good performances out of Kebbel and the supporting cast, including Andrew McCarthy as Alex’s brother (a surprisingly nuanced portrait of a born-again suburban dad) and cameos by the likes of Melissa Leo, Jason Ritter and Christopher McDonald. The movie’s focus on two people discovering a musical kinship is reminiscent of Once. Like that film, Brooklyn Brothers is insightful without being self-important about the creative process (there’s a charming scene in which Alex tries to teach his precocious nephew how to write a song), and, like Once, it has the pleasurably addictive feel of a song with a good hook. Once you’ve seen it, you may just want to see — and hear it — again.