The Normal Heart (2014)

The Normal Heart (2014)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

This post may contain spoilers. Read at your own discretion.

Overview

In a struggle still relevant today, Larry Kramer’s play, The Normal Heart, premiered its third revival on May 25th, 2014. Twenty-nine years after its success at The Public Theatre in New York City, — and three years after its critically acclaimed Broadway production, — American director Ryan Murphy breathes life into the public health advocate’s work once more. The heartbreaking story of the HIVAIDS crisis in the early 1980’s is a jarring perspective to how far society has come with regards to awareness of the still-incurable condition. Equipped with a stellar cast, the 133-minute HBO television film extends beyond the exclusive confines of the theatrical stage, and reaches into our homes to remind us that the combat for a cure needs to continue.

Storyline

“The Normal Heart” opens in 1981 on the way to a summer party over at New York’s Fire Island Pines. A nervous but excited writer, Alexander “Ned” Weeks (played by Mark Ruffalo), steps off the boat and toys between confidence and nervousness. Moments later, the host, Craig Donner (played by Jonathan Groff) brings him over to a beach house. When there, Ned greets Craig’s boyfriend, Bruce Niles (played by Taylor Kitsch), and they exchange pleasantries before the latter partakes in a mildly amusing hijink.

Later, during a series of games and sports taking place in the sun, Ned and Micky Marcus (played by Joe Mantello) stroll down the beach. The two have a catch up on each other’s lives, and parts of their exchanges imply previous sexual tension between selected members of the circle. After a brief glimpse into Ned’s image among his brethren, Craig collapses onto the sand after a spell of light-headedness overcomes him. People rush to his aid, and he walks off the beach with Bruce by his side. Later that night, Craig blows the candles off his birthday cake with moderate difficulty. Shortly after Micky’s remark about his singlehood, Ned spends an evening watching minglers at a party from the outside, but a chance encounter during a solitary stroll implies that he may have had anonymous pleasures of his own. On the boat ride back to the mainland, Ned stumbled upon an article in The New York Times titled “Rare Cancer Diagnosed in 41 Homosexuals”, which prompts him to get in touch with Dr. Emma Brookner (played by Julia Roberts) for more information on the condition.

What was supposed to be an question-and-answer session in a casual visit to turned into a full-fledged examination by the curt, but well-intentioned doctor. In the waiting room shortly before his physical, Ned has a brief conversation with a man named Sanford (played by Stephen Spinella), whose purple lesions from Kaposi’s sarcoma and gravity of his situation are already apparent. They both absorb the harrowing reality that it may already be too late for him. Ned learns about what is currently known about this mysterious cancer and the fact that he doesn’t exhibit any of the dreaded symptoms. Dr. Brookner, after learning of his reputation in the gay community through her assistant, Buzzy (played by B.D. Wong), requests his help to spread the word of this illness. Ned responds with some insights about the politics that go on within, and she is less than sympathetic. Just as she dismisses him, a convulsing Craig is brought into the clinic by Bruce and Micky. Dr Brookner recognises Bruce as the former partner of another patient who had only succumbed to the illness just three weeks prior. Hours later, the terrible cycle would repeat itself.

Craig’s death is enough to drive Ned to organise a meeting of local gay men in his apartment. Dr. Brookner is given the floor. She tells them that while evidence of the possible perpetuation of this disease is through sexual transmission, her requests to confirm this theory is currently subjected to funding bureaucracy. Her subsequent appeal for them to stop having intercourse in the meantime does not bode well with those in attendance. Many remind her of their numerous trials to be accepted as fully-realised members of society. The reaction quickly reaches fever pitch, and she leaves. Ned is aware that many have gathered that night in hopes of finding sexual gratification, but proceeds to announce his plans to start an awareness organisation and help centre. Many walk out on him. So, he reaches out to Felix Turner (played by probably the most perfect-looking man on the planet, Matt Bomer) for a signal boost in the media. Despite his pleas being rejected on the grounds of angering mainstream demands, a relationship blossoms between the two. It doesn’t stop Ned from pushing forward. In the grassroots level, charity drives and independently published newspapers are given a lukewarm reception. On a trip back to Fire Island, the friends throw Craig’s cremated remains into the ocean, supposedly a gesture marking the very last time he had beckoned a new year of his short life — or had celebrated anything.

After making his initial request to his brother, Ben (played by Alfred Molina), for legal support, Ned goes with Dr. Brookner to visit the additional patients that have been discreetly admitted under her care. By then, the condition has been crudely labelled “GRID”, or the Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease. There, he sees Sanford again, but this time, the disease has rapidly progressed and he is afflicted with dementia. By then, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, or GMHC, — have enough members to formalise their existence. The faces of GMHC now include fashion model Albert (played by vague Matt Damon look-a-like, Finn Wittrock) and Tommy Boatwright (played by Jim Parsons), and they all meet to coordinate their first public appearance. The group choose Bruce as the organisation’s president, after a majority express their reservations towards Ned’s aggressive approach. There is visible tension between Ned and Bruce, supposedly stemming from Craig, but the two are willing to put aside their differences in methods. During a night about the town, Bruce, who seen more than his share of dying lovers, expresses his feelings for the now-infected Albert. Ned declares that he is enamoured with someone, too. The drunken confession ends messily in the middle of a cold shower, and the fundraiser takes place soon after, to rousing success.

However, the initial USD 53,000 made would not prove to be enough. Ned’s belligerence in television interviews jeopardises the organisation’s initial impression, and brings forth the frustrations of the by many closeted who are forced to acclimatise with societal majority for their own safety. Meanwhile, Ben’s homophobia nearly costs him his brother, and Ned witnesses the true horror of AIDS when it takes root in his very own reality. The two strongest members of GMHC continue to disagree, and each conflict proves to be more embittered than the last. In the midst of the escalated voices and calls for change, the amount of people dying from AIDS continues to rise.

Verdict

Heart-wrenching and an imperative watch. What was supposed to be just over two hours of my time turned into a six-hour emotional rollercoaster and hard look at my conscience. Despite searching for the answer, I never found out why Larry Kramer would name his work “The Normal Heart”. But I’d like to think that it would require precisely and only that to be moved by it. Many have claimed the newest adaptation is a far cry from the impact of the original format, which I haven’t personally seen yet, but the entire cast appears to have done an incredible job in their respective roles.

The several faces from the 2011 Broadway run who have re-appeared for the 2014 version have put forth a new dimension to the story. Jim Parsons reprises his role as activist Tommy Boatwright, and succeeds in removing himself almost completely from his most renowned role as “The Big Bang Theory”‘s Sheldon Cooper. Some quirks remain, such as the natural halting gait familiar in the socially awkward theoretical physicist, but he is anything but. He lays on the profanity, demonstrates a capacity for affection… and throws in an impressive punch, too boot. Joe Mantello, who played Ned Weeks in the previous theatre production, takes on the role of Micky Marcus. He is stellar as the character, and delivers a heartbreaking performance of a man enraged by the inactions of his country, whose very identity is causing doors of opportunity to close around him. It is safe to say that Micky’s emotional breakdown and his near-attack of Ned is my favourite bit of acting in the film.

Mark Ruffalo and his take on Ned may seem too brash and almost purposeless for some. I’ll admit, it is also how I felt at the first watch. However, after a second run, I realised that with every major social issue struggling to be heard and valued — AIDS awareness, included — a hard voice is a necessary inconvenience. The words of Ned Weeks may have been irreverent for a community still struggling to gain the most basic of rights, but his refusal to compromise does not form out of thin air. More than thirty years on, science has witnessed break-throughs that only those living around the time of the outbreak can only dream of seeing. This includes a possible cure for HIV. Yet, many groups continue fighting to live properly. Things may be markedly better, sure, yet the long-time targets of disenfranchisement — women, children, immigrants, homosexuals (still), to name a few — still need to push through the many glass ceilings the frightened, misinformed segment of society continue to erect.

Catapulting any social justice issue right into the public eye begins with deciding between a non-confrontational approach and bellowing at the majority with complete abandon. Deep inside, we all hope for the uninhibited second option. But to start a revolution means to have been hurt enough.

We need more Neds out there.

The Monuments Men (2014)

The Monuments Men (2014)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

This post may contain spoilers. Read at your own discretion.

Overview

Back in my undergraduate years, I took two semesters of art history. It fostered in me a love for the subject, and when I learned that a biopic about the MFAA, or the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program, was in the works, I was over the moon. “The Monuments Men” presents itself as an interesting marriage of art history and war history, a creative endeavour in which American actor and charismatic gentleman George Clooney directed, produced, and starred. Unsurprisingly, he brings a lot of his own into a part of history that many connect with — some to a large degree. Perhaps in that fact alone, I should have known that I would enter the cinema giddy with excitement, and leave two hours later, feeling a little lukewarm about the whole thing.

Storyline

The film opens inside the Saint Bavo Cathedral‘s Joost Vijd chapel. Men work to remove Hubert van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece (The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) from the altar, each enduring a sense of urgency. They load the paintings into a truck, and another gives them clothes to use on their southbound escape to Brussels along with information that the Germans are to arrive from the east. After a couple words of blessing, it is then revealed the ones involved in the moving of these works are priests. The vehicle drives away quickly from the premises, a scene that bears a disturbing resemblance to the hiding scene of “The Sound of Music”. It would be revealed later that en route to the destination, the two religious are killed by the German opposition, and the art stolen.

In the occupied French capital, Claire Simone (played by Cate Blanchett), a curator, is forced to entertain Nazi officers overseeing the accumulation of stolen art for Adolf Hitler’s later-unrealised Führermuseum and the personal collections of some high-ranking Nazi officials. When asked to prepare champagne for her guest and his associate, Dr. Viktor Stahl (played by Justus von Dohnányi), Simone maintains her placid exterior. But when she retreats into the kitchen, she betrays her loyalties when she spits into goblet then instructs the charge to do the same. Unbeknownst to him, Stahl enjoys the drink, as divisions of the work are being decided. Beyond the confines of their pristine corners, the horrors of the Second World War continue to manifest.

Half a world away, Frank Stokes (played by George Clooney) makes an impassioned presentation about the state of the arts and the fragile state of much of the world’s culture to a panel, which includes the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Naturally, it meets with some misgivings, but Stokes counters with his plan of action, and manages to get the green light to jumpstart his own mission: to go into the war itself retrieve the stolen art from the hands of Nazis. With this, Stokes and British officer Donald Jeffries (played with Hugh Bonneville) assemble The Monuments Men, and key members consist of museum curator and director James Granger (played by Matt Damon), architect Richard Campbell (played by Bill Murray) whose introductory scene was given probably one of the best colouring work of the entire film, art dealer and director of design Jean Claude Clermont (played by the dashing Jean Dujardin), dance director Preston Savitz (played by Bob Balaban), and sculptor Walter Garfield (played by John Goodman) — with Private Sam Epstein (played by Dimitri Leonidas) following closely as a German translator.

The Monuments Men complete basic training, and the operation underway proceeds as planned. Five of them arrive at Normandy by sea, and get a preliminary look at the artwork that has already been retrieved from German hands. Granger and his terrible grasp of French, on the other hand, embark on an alternate route via Deauville to find the director of Musée National d’Art Moderne, if he is still alive. Back in Paris, Simone makes her way home, only to find out that her apartment has been broken into by Stahl. She receives the devastating news that her brother, had been killed in action. Because he is discovered to have had been part of the Maquis by the time his death is officially recorded, Stahl gives her little time to grieve. He confronts Simone about the true nature of her allegiances, and storms out, leaving her in tears. She soon learns that Stahl has taken all the items from her gallery and is planning to send them to Germany. Running out to the station, she plans to confront him, but Stahl takes shots at her while hanging off the moving train. He misses, but the anguish of seeing the dissolution of a large part of her life’s work is evident in Simone’s face. The city is liberated shortly after, but despite treading carefully between her work and her patriotism, she is mistakenly assumed to be a Nazi collaborator, and is arrested.

Meanwhile, the other members of the unit encounter conflicts of their own. Campbell and Savitz placate a young soldier with some midnight smokes, and then head to Merkers. Granger, who flies to Paris via biplane, visits Simone in prison. He fumbles over his French once more, and she eyes him distrustfully, thinking he is the American counterpart to the already disastrous art heist. Their first encounter concludes with a lot of tension, and Granger knows he has to do much more to earn her trust. Garfield and Clermont nearly take out a gun-wielding child, but later, things do not end well for one of them. In Belgium, lone ranger Jeffries lays down his life for Michaelangelo’s Madonna and Child (Madonna of Bruges), protected only by a single gun and the memory of experiencing its reverent beauty as a child. When Stokes receives news of the casualties, he begins to realise that the true cost of restoring generations of life and culture is far greater than he expects.

Verdict

George Clooney’s recent effort is worth watching for its collection of light moments, but despite the way film carries itself, do not expect anything substantial. “The Monuments Men” read like a war-time edition of the “Ocean’s…” franchise. It was chock-full of witty banter, A-list actors, and other tricks of the Hollywood trade — including the one pivotal scene which moves the entire theatre to the brink of tears — but despite being incredibly well-equipped, it proved itself to be neither a fitting tribute to art nor war history. Even though Clooney may not have intended this, the film may have even inadvertently gone as far as making light of the life-threatening missions taken by the actual MFAA in their collective effort to preserve chunks of history.

Sure, one could argue that cinematically portraying the assault of the world’s culture can only bring down the morale of its viewers, thus, ultimately the sales of the film. To a certain extent, that is true. Laying bare the lives of those who have suffered under the marauding hand of war as well as the many artistic pioneers behind those works, whose existence has mostly known tragedy and lack of appreciation, would not make for an uplifting 118-minute run. Considering how “The Monuments Men” has been generously marketed — aside from its beautifully designed official website, an educational microsite, a support microsite, an official Tumblr, and even an off-shoot virtual journal of curator Claire Simone, to name a few, — it is obvious there is no shortage of backing. Still, in the eyes of those looking to “The Monuments Men” as an examination of the past, it under-promised and — dare I say it — came off, instead, as a brilliant public relations move on the part of the United States. But, if that was the ultimate motive, then, touché.

Behind the Candelabra (2013)

Behind the Candelabra (2013)

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

This post may contain spoilers. Read at your own discretion.

Overview

Before watching Steven Soderbergh’s recent directorial piece, all I knew about the late Władziu “Walter” Valentino Liberace was confined to reports of his ostentatious lifestyle and passing references on “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”. The 2013 biopic and HBO original ended up offering a lot more insight into the man who was both a genius and a destructive force to one of his last, yet his most famous ex-lover, Scott Thorson. “Behind the Candelabra” boasted lavish scenes rich in colour and spirit during his 118-minute run, yet maintains a darkly powerful undertone which reminds the viewer that not all that glitters is gold.

Storyline

The film opens in 1977, with a teenaged Scott Thorson (played by Matt Damon) in a noisy, seductively-lit club. Across the island bar table is a man (played by a barely recognisable Scott Bakula) who had been staring at him from a distance. The latter makes the approach, and introduces himself as “Bob”. The true nature of their relationship is masked with a great degree of nebulosity in the duration of the film, but Bob Black remains consistent in Scott’s life.

With a life-long ambition to become a veterinarian, Scott works as an animal trainer on film sets. He has also maintained a steady, yet warm home life with his well-intentioned yet concerned foster parents, Joe and Rose Carracappa (played by Garrett M. Brown and Jane Morris, respectively). They are aware of Bob’s numerous connections with the show business industry, and do not seem to express any reservations when Scott drives off with him to see a show. There, Scott sees Liberace (played by Michael Douglas) for the first time. He finds himself entertained by his stage presence, and impressed by his piano playing. Bob takes Scott backstage after the performance to introduce him to the star, who immediately takes a liking to Scott’s youth and solid build, despite the jealous soon-to-be-ex-protégé, Billy Leatherwood (played by Cheyenne Jackson), having a meal within earshot. Shortly after, Liberace invites the two to his palatial home. An instinctual comment about Liberace’s partially-sighted poodle, Baby Boy, punctuates the latter’s interest, and he then conducts a private home tour to disarm the young boy. After a couple moves to make Scott comfortable, Liberace offers him an assistant job and introduces him to his personal manager, Seymour Heller (played by Dan Aykroyd) but as the chemistry between them becomes more apparently, they both knew that it was going to be more than just a contractual, professional relationship.

Scott moves in, and things quickly heat up between he and his older lover, who he know calls “Lee”. Between accented interludes of food, shopping, and sex, Lee demonstrates his trust in Scott by confiding his innermost secrets to him. One of his most intimate divulgences is one about religion, and how, as a gay man, he is able to maintain faith in an institution notorious for its long-held homophobia. Lee had barely escaped with his life when exhaustion combined with being poisoned by his own clothing landed him in the hospital. However, during his convalescence, events that led to his recovery had convinced him that God loves him exactly for who he is. Who knows if there a political motive behind it, but if anything, it is my favourite scene.

The abundance of wealth, material goods, and copious amounts of exposure soon come within reach of Scott. Lee lavishes Scott with countless gifts, while continuing to have him work. However, his dark side emerges after his vanity forces himself to get rid of the visible wrinkles he sees on a live broadcast of one of his television appearances, and he asks his plastic surgeon, the blinky Dr. Jack Startz (played by Rob Lowe), to make a couple adjustments on Scott. The intention is to create a younger version of himself through his adonis, and eventually adopt Scott as his own son. As loving as the gesture appears to Lee himself, it sheds light into the controlling and manipulative nature of Lee. Frustrated, Scott becomes increasingly dependent on drugs, mostly to shield himself from the reality of his other half’s addiction to adult films, but the increasing promiscuity with younger men, and the gradual dissolution of their relationship upon the arrival of the vibrant Cary James (played by Boyd Holbrook) would be the wedge that would eventually drive the men apart.

Verdict

While I didn’t completely enjoy it, there should be an emphasis that there is a difference between that and the fact that it was an excellent film. “Behind the Candelabra” is, in short, heavy, and borderline overwhelming. But, perhaps, that’s the point. I think my sympathies immediately gravitated towards Scott Thorson from the very beginning, even after reading about his proclivities towards a life of crime in the years following Walter Liberace’s death. Yet, I also found myself wondering how someone as young as he could have such a depth of understanding of the plights of a man almost five decades older. Nevertheless, the top-tier acting tied the entire production together beautifully.

The casting choice is a well-thought-out combination of accurate physical resemblance and strength of talent. Those flanking the credits were names attached to faces with distinct features, what with veteran actor Michael Douglas as Liberace, the piercing features and versatile talent of Matt Damon as Thorson (whose character only managed to have good hair in the last twenty minutes of the film), the timeless and seemingly omnipresent Scott Bakula as Black, the accessible badassery of Dan Aykroyd as Heller, and the chiseled Rob Lowe as Dr. Startz for, well… just look at the guy! It is just unfortunate that all but Thorson have since died, and due to his current incarceration, none are able to witness the unveiling of this superb piece. Hopefully, one day, he does.

Gravity (2013)

Gravity (2013)

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

This post may contain spoilers and large images that may compromise slower internet connections. Read at your own discretion.

Overview

A couple weeks ago, some friends and I got to watch Alfonso Cuarón’s most recent cinematic brainchild in 4DX. This motion picture technology, which further enhances the element of depth perception generously provided by 3D film, now includes environmental augmentations, like moving chairs, plus an array of vapours, bubbles, lighting sequences, smoke, and other effects that manifest on cue. The experience itself was mild in comparison to the adrenaline-fueling synopsis, but “Gravity” couldn’t have been viewed any other way.

Storyline

Dr. Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock) is supervised by veteran astronaut Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (played by George Clooney, but can only be described as the outer space version of “E.R”‘s Dr. Doug Ross) during a mission aboard the fictional Space Shuttle Explorer. While Dr. Stone manages the delicate balance between her nausea and completing her assigned task, Kowalski demonstrates his extensive experience through his mobility about the vehicle. The two exchange friendly banter with Mission Control (played by Ed Harris), with Shariff Dasari (played by Paul Sharma) providing intermittent entertainment from a distance.

Everything seems to go well until Mission Control issues a warning about incoming space debris from an inoperative satellite that had been shattered by a Russian missile. The incident, which caused a chain reaction of opportunistic wrecking, ends up in their direct line of contact, causing the team scrambling to abort the mission. Despite their team organisation and sense of urgency, communication with Mission Control is lost. They continue with blind transmissions until the astronauts find themselves in the business end of dangerous objects. The collision results in irreparable damage to the shuttle and ultimately, the deaths of the crew members in outer space level. With only her limited experience with the International Space Station and additional advice picked up from her now-deceased cohort to guide her, first-timer and sole survivor Dr. Stone would need to find her way back into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Verdict

Since its premiere at the 70th Venice International Film Festival, — and the subsequent good-humoured fact check by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson — “Gravity” received much acclaim for its use of screenwriting, acting, direction, production design, cinematography, special effects, and the use of 3D technology. It may even be safe to call the standards put forth in Cuarón’s directorial effort “game-changing”. Not bad for a film that only had two fully credited cast members.

The science fiction thriller and drama, though heavy-looking in its skin, also incorporates spiritual themes. Some of the philosophical and metaphysical nuggets teetered toward cheesy, yet, “Gravity” remembers to put its magnificent visuals in the forefront by not over-intellectualising. Oddly enough, one of my favourite moments in the film is one of the heavy ones: when Dr. Stone takes the fetal position to rest inside the International Space Station.

Gravity (2013)

Her place in the composition is a stark contrast to what she sees just moments prior, which is the loss of her fellow crew members. Even before that, she exposes herself to emotional vulnerability in front of her fallen lead, Kowalski, by opening up about her life at home in Lake Zurich, Illinois, and the accidental death of her young daughter. In a manner of minutes, all possible forms of security have been torn from her grasp, including any form of guidance. A close brush with oxygen deprivation forces Dr. Stone to take a rest within the artificial satellite. Just in front of the round entrance hatch, she reverts to complete helplessness, fully depending on the warm and nurturing environment akin to a womb. The slow revolution of her body willingly submits to the physical forces taking place, and for just a few minutes, allows herself to gain the resolve to start over.

(My other favourite scene is when Shariff sings part of a famous Bollywood song in a volume that hilariously overtakes the country music so loved by Texan native Kowalski. Bollywood. In outer space. Brilliant… which raises the following question: what’s up with American astronauts and the sudden desire to listen to country after leaving the surface of the Earth? Is the sudden nostalgia similar to the way some Indonesians secretly miss dangdut when away from the archipelago?)

I do not regret watching “Gravity” in plastic glasses and a shifting chair. Altogether, the orchestrated vapours, mild movement, and sprays of water courtesy of 4DX technology more or less justified the IDR 130000 price tag. However, even though I would personally have only caught “Gravity” in the format I chose, the technology still pales in comparison to the strength of the story.

But, it should not go without saying that 4DX has given films a new dimension — pun intended. After the success of “Gravity”, those that will follow in its footsteps are promised to be far more elaborate and excellent, and those deserving of a high-tech re-make have the potential to be experienced in an entirely different way. Perhaps, the industry can start with “Inception”?

The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best (2011)

The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best (2011)

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

This post may contain spoilers. Read at your own discretion.

Overview

Independent film “The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best” is a Ryan O’Nan original, in almost every sense of the word. The little-known actor teams up with Michael Weston of “House” and “Six Feet Under” fame to form the fictitious Brooklyn Brothers, and embark on an adventure to make a mark in the film and music industries. With the help of left-of-centre songwriting and Fisher Price toys, they manage to do so. What is designed as a work of pure fiction crosses over into reality when the partners in music score an album deal as said band. The 2011 writing, acting, and directorial piece is a musical testament to re-capturing lost youth, and the unapologetic pursuit of dreams.

Storyline

After a few artistic shots of a time-worn guitar case, the film opens quietly in a New York public restroom. Sitting in one of the stalls is Alex (played by Ryan O’Nan), in tears, while grasping a hand-written letter. Kyle (played by Jason Ritter) stands by the door, reminding him that they’re due to perform shortly. Prompted by the urgency in his bandmate’s voice, Alex gathers the strength to deliver for their scheduled set. The scene changes to the dark-lit club, where the two men are onstage, singing. The venue is all but abandoned, save for a figure sitting in the dark, with a crate of objects in front of him. When Kyle decides to bring their current number to a particularly disturbing note, the lurker gathers his belongings to leave in a seemingly frustrated rush. Outside the venue, the clearly delusional Kyle decides to dissolve their duo, citing creative differences. Stunned, Alex finds himself stag, and has to take his depressing lyrics elsewhere, to resort to other means of sustaining his musical career.

In the daytime, Alex underperforms in a low-ranking real-estate company. The night after he is kicked out of the band, he arrives late, much to the chagrin of his boss, Jack (played by Christopher McDonald), and his antagonistic co-worker, Jason (played by Wilmer Valderrama). He continues to be at their mercy when he has to ask Jack for part-time leave in order to play during office hours. It also becomes apparent that Alex is strapped of cash, because he has been unable to close on any deals at work. Jason relishes this, but on this particular day, Alex has had more than enough of his arrogance. He hurls the office’s five-gallon water cooler bottle at Jason’s face, and Jack fires him for his misdeed. Now without work, Alex is left with a lot of time to play his gig.

Meanwhile, Alex frantically tries to salvage the remains of his romantic relationship. He remains glued to his phone, and continues to dial his ex-girlfriend. He leaves a desperate message on her machine, before shattering his phone against the wall of his apartment. The restless night passes, and Alex proceeds to his next gig at a centre for mentally disabled adults — dressed as a “Song Master” moose. It goes well at first, but mid-performance, he punches the face of an audience member who playfully attacks him with a plastic knife. The administration fires him immediately.

Still in full costume, Alex morosely wanders to a park bench, having reached rock bottom. His ex-girlfriend finally returns his numerous calls, and Alex tries to piece bits of his phone back together to hear her. Even with the garbled the reception, the two are able to communicate, somewhat. Just as they are reaching the thick of their conversation, a man (played by Michael Weston) approaches Alex, talking to him loudly, and drowning out the contents of the phone call. Alex asks him to go away, which he does, at first. However, he returns, slightly frustrated at being brushed off the first time. Jim becomes frustrated at not being listened to the first time, and the heated exchange becomes a physical one. The struggle ends abruptly when Alex is knocked out cold.

Alex comes to the next day, startled awake, yet hazy from the circumstances of his re-location. He finds himself back on his couch, with his assailant — the source of his shock back to consciousness — in clear sight. The man introduces himself as Jim, and explains to his shocked victim that he had located the apartment from the driver’s license in Alex’s wallet. Before Alex could begin to process the flagrant violation of privacy, Jim quickly brings up his proposal of a two-week cross-country tour. He had also been kicked out of a band, just as he had booked all the venues. Never mind that they’ve never rehearsed together, nor figured out the stylistics of each other’s musical rhythms. All that is required of Alex is to accompany the very man whose first official interaction with him is a fist to the face. Enraged, he kicks him out of the apartment, and dials his older brother, Brian (played by Andrew McCarthy) to seek his the companionship and counsel for a while. But, just before he heads to Brian’s residence, he decides to seek Jim out, and — with the help of small-town girl Cassidy (played by Arielle Kebbel) — give his insane idea a go.

Verdict

Equipped with dysfunctional characters with lovable quirks, almost hipster-like popular culture references, and the all-American flavour of the film, “The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best” succeeds in resonating with twenty-somethings who still aren’t afraid to dream. With great music, to boot. Its perky melodies and use of toys for accompaniment vaguely reminds me of a raw version of the lightness of Owl City’s “Fireflies”. One of their more famous tracks, “278 (Airport)”, is available on YouTube. The song properly begins about a minute and fifteen seconds into the video.

Character-wise, the film offers little background context, and throws random factoids for the viewer to catch throughout the 98-minute run. Over time, all the characters become increasingly nuanced, but as a package, are not altogether alarming. This is because many of their idiosyncrasies are relatable. The scruffy Alex finds himself at odds with the conventional definition of adulthood when put up against his conservative born-again Protestant older brother and his catalogue family. The child-like Jim impresses all as an eccentric, yet surprisingly family-oriented and appears to have one of the highest EQs out of the entire group. The apple-cheeked Cassidy dreams of bigger things, yet struggles with her own personal demons. We could easily be any of them.

“The Brooklyn Brothers Beats the Best” is cute, light, and a little nuts. It is very reminiscent of “Once”, with far less females, and much more outward romance… and I mean the type without the “B”. If you don’t find yourself charmed by Alex, Jim, Cassidy, Brian, or Jackson, the film’s original soundtrack will do the trick.