Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bro' - Film

"Bro'" is a term we're all familiar with. It's synonymous with "dude" or "G." The slang seems more surfer than anything else. "Hey, bro', there are some killer waves out there today."

In Southern California a bro' is what you get if you combine piercings, blue jeans, biker rings, gangster iconography, Metal Mulisha, Tap Out t-shirts, mixed martial arts, spiked leather belts, lifted trucks, tattoos of "Inland Empire" or "909" with a serious gangster/rock-a-billy/native SoCal flavor, dirt bikes, skateboards and everything else the X Games have to offer.

My description is still insufficient, and I've hung out with bro's forever since I started writing for Skinnie Entertainment Magazine nearly a decade ago. If you live in the Inland Empire, you know what a bro' is, and Hollywood doesn't, for the most part.

Beau Manley and Colin "Scummy" Morrison in Bro'

My point is that any music-oriented youth subculture is always difficult to pin down because that's just the way it is. I was very surprised that Nick Parada, the director of Bro', chose to point his camera at a demographic largely ignored by Hollywood. I still can't think of a single film or television show that seemed to capture the spirit of the Southern California hardcore punk scene I experienced growing up in the 80's and 90's throughout San Bernardino County.

My friends and I listened to bands like The Dickies, the Dead Kennedys, and Black Flag, rode skateboards and wore all of the spiked belts, leather jackets, band shirts and combat boots we could purchase off of Melrose Ave. in L.A. to wear that weekend to the Voodoo Glow Skulls show at Spanky's in Riverside. We were punk, mostly into music produced by Dr. Strange Records, but beyond that no one I ever saw that was supposed to be punk on the big screen ever looked like me or my friends, which is why I enjoyed Bro' so much.

In one of the early scenes of Bro', the main character, Johnny (played by Will Chavez) goes with his new friend, Jesse (played by Beau Manley, a former member of Metal Mulisha) to a party out in the Inland Empire, where we meet Jesse's friend and fellow dirt bike rider, Rudy (played by Colin "Scummy" Morrison of Metal Mulisha) I was blown away. I've partied in Riverside, at houses like that, with people like that. A few minutes later, Johnny watches as Jesse and Rudy beat up and kick out a few other people who came to the party for being posers. I almost laughed out loud, because I had seen something like that happen a dozen times at some of the parties I'd been at. 

Johnny's story is the primary component of Bro'. He's a college kid growing up in Burbank, working at a gym, and that's about all you find out about him, aside from the fact he lives with his mom in the suburbs. He could be anybody.

Will Chavez, Colin "Scummy" Morrison and Rebekah Graf  in Bro'

Johnny picks up on Jesse's sister, goes to her house, meets Jesse, and the story begins. You can't blame Johnny for hanging out with Jesse. Compared to him, Johnny is dull, more mainstream than anything else. That's the point of any coming-of-age drama, though. Oliver Twist, the central protagonist of Oliver Twist, is a nice kid, but he's also a fucking bore. He really doesn't get interesting until he meets the Artful Dodger, a criminal operating in London that provides the nice kid with the reason to rock the streets living a life of crime.

Jesse is the Artful Dodger. He drives a lifted truck, races dirt bikes, is covered in tattoos and seems to run the show. He smokes weed, parties, sells cocaine and buys firearms. He's a badass. Of course Johnny wants to hang out with Jesse and his partner-in-crime, Rudy. The parties alone are worth the two-hour jaunt down the 210E from Burbank, where Jesse just points to a pretty girl and just about commands her to have sex with Johnny. Damn, G, you sure roll funky.

Mr. Parada, the director of Bro', has given us a film that's a snapshot into a whole lifestyle I wouldn't mind seeing more of on the big screen in more films. The characters in Bro' are primarily into dirt bikes, and I would have preferred to see some mixed martial arts up there, but I was still impressed by what Mr. Parada had done because, like I mentioned before, when I grew up punk I never saw anything on the big screen (or television) that seemed to accurately represent what my friends and I were into. In Parada's film, the scene is right there, just like it is out in the High Desert. 

When people think of punk music they typically think of Suburbia. That's because few films could accurately capture what was going on in the Southern California punk music scene back in the day. Other films like Dudes, Sid and Nancy and Repo Man almost captured the spirit, but it was really just a photograph of a reflection of the real thing. If you want to see what was really going on, you have to watch The Decline of Western Civilization

I liked Bro' because the people I was looking at on the screen were involved in a music-orientated youth subculture I could identify with. When Jesse tells Johnny they're going to the I.E., it was surreal. The Big Screen was finally going to show what was going on in my backyard.

Bro' also reminds me of Easy Rider, which is why I enjoyed it. Easy Rider was panned by critics and hated by everyone who was a millionaire in Hollywood, but Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper made a low-budget movie about guys who are into motorcycles, drugs and music, trying to find themselves and get away at the same time. The film made millions because the predominant youth subculture saw themselves up on that screen. They could be Captain America and Billy, all they needed was the clothes, the attitude and a motorcycle.

When I see the desert that is Riverside in Bro', I am reminded of how those areas really are that desolate, where kids grow up dealing meth, cocaine and weed because everyone's doing it and there aren't enough cops to go around. The guys living lifestyle out in places like Riverside are going to see themselves in Bro', too.

That's another reason why Mr. Parada's film is so compelling. Just like Easy Rider, it's a low budget flick, featuring a few relatively green actors in a movie where cocaine is the catalyst for the action to follow, but the plot is tight enough to relate to. Most of the time in a Hollywood crime flick the characters are dealing and stealing millions of dollars. In Bro', the characters are transporting thousands of dollars of cocaine for a dealer connected to hardcore Mexican gang members. It's low-stakes, so it's plausible, just like the violence. When the blood flows there's no reason it shouldn't and the scary fact is it's the kind of thing that really is happening every day, right next door.

Johnny is at first a lot more cool than he was in the opening credits, dressed like his new friends, rolling in a car financed and approved by Jesse, but he always seems just a little like the poser Rudy beats up at the first party. He just hasn't been that hardcore for that long, so he's forcing it. Unlike Rudy and Jesse, Johnny really has no fall-back option for being cool. If Bro' is Easy Rider, Johnny is Jack Nicholson's straight-laced, college graduate, vacationing from his mainstream-approved, square lifestyle, only cool because he's in the area of his motorcyclist friends. Without them he's kind of a schmuck. Johnny pushes himself closer to the abyss because unlike Jesse and Rudy, there's no fallback. These are his cool friends, he has to impress them, or it's back to his day job in Burbank and wearing whatever the fuck Sears had on sale that Sunday. 

That's not to diss on Will Chavez. In one of the opening scenes of the film, as he stares into the mirror, high on cocaine, in calamity up to his eyebrows, and there's a loss and desolation in his face anyone who's partied too much can recognize. Just like Oliver Twist, he gets in trouble with the law and suffers for hanging out with criminals. He's a nice guy, and the fast lane wasn't meant for him.

Jesse's character is all about the fast lane. He's a competitive dirt bike rider on his way to the professional big time, but the guns, drugs and gangs posses a gravity he can't escape. The gang members he's dealing with are violent, and Jesse knows it. He owes them. The character should ditch the dealing and stay with racing dirt bikes, but by the time you've met the players he's working for, you understand why not picking up the phone when they call is a bad idea. That, and the money is too much. Who'd ditch that, the parties or the girls?

I draw comparisons to Easy Rider because Mr. Parada's film captures a spirit, a lifestyle, a counterculture attitude with Bro' that people need to see. Hopper, Fonda and Nicholson did the same thing with their own film back in the day. All of the characters in those films are on the edge of society, in their own way. The landscapes in Bro' are a wasteland, at times, much like Easy Rider. They are on the edge of society, even if the lines between the two are ill-defined. 

Danny Trejo,  Bro'

While the film is certainly sturdy enough to head down the highway on it's own power, Danny Trejo's presence in the film is a high-octane booster. Trejo has played it all, but for the most part he's the dangerous gangster you don't want to fuck with. His role in the film carries a gravitas that's impossible to not feel. The actor is, after all, a proven A-lister who's been in scenes with Robert De Niro. His role in the film is a restrained one, but it's the reason Bro' hits as hard as it does.

By the end of the film, there is a perfect synchronicity to all of the plot elements that feel as inevitable as a barrel going over Niagara Falls. We've seen this story before, only this time it's told against a different backdrop, and when each of the characters get what's coming to them you expect it, even though the end result is entirely because of natural choices each person in the story makes, so it's good writing.  

Like Easy Rider, Bro' is not a perfect film, but a low-budget, independent flick doesn't need to be if it's shot and written well enough to show us something new. Mr. Parada has done something very cutting edge with this movie, and I'm sure Hollywood is going to give us films in the future that feature more of Metal Mulisha, real skateboarding, mixed martial arts and the modern hardcore punk scene thriving in the desert down here in Southern California.

The official Facebook site for Bro' is right here.

The official AMC Theaters website for Bro' is right here

The official website for Bro' is right here

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for an excellent review of BRO' Film. I enjoyed seeing it at AMC 30 at Orange County CA. The story seems very real as if it is based on real story of Southern California teen age men.