Review: ‘The Naked Brothers Band’

A family film in more ways than one (half the cast members are helmer's relatives), Polly Draper's independent quasi-mockumentary, "The Naked Brothers Band," spins her two young sons' modest neighborhood rock band into a fictional chartbusting phenomenon sweeping the country.

A family film in more ways than one (half the cast members are helmer’s relatives), Polly Draper’s independent quasi-mockumentary, “The Naked Brothers Band,” spins her two young sons’ modest neighborhood rock band into a fictional chartbusting phenomenon sweeping the country. Conceived as a cross between “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Our Gang” two-reelers, pic’s sped-up whimsy, at first annoying, soon succumbs to the kids’ precocious charm and the potent charisma of 9-year-old leader/songwriter Nat Wolff. Convincingly faithful to kids’ rhythms and speech patterns, and featuring several catchy if one-chorus numbers, this bouncy, feel-good kidpic, with targeted release strategy, could rock peers and parents alike.

Slim plot finds Nat and his 6-year-old drummer brother Alex already superstars, along with Josh (Joshua Kaye), David (David Levi) and Thomas (Thomas Batuello), the other schoolboy members of the Silver Bullets. In cameos, celebrities from Uma Thurman to Cyndi Lauper pay tribute to their genius.

Whereas Nat is sweet, smart, generous and gets along with everyone, hyperactive Alex acts out continually, “inappropriate” his proud epithet. The band is ably managed by pint-size, horn-rimmed glasses-sporting Cooper (Cooper Pillot), and relative harmony reigns amid chaotic fan adulation and omnipresent paparazzi.

But when grownups, in the form of a sleazy bald manager (producer Jonathan Pillot), and a girl, in the guise of Josh’s 9-year-old cousin Rosalina (Allie Dimeco), enter the picture, artistic differences fracture the group. Nat’s ballad “Rosalina” is judged too sissy by Josh, David and Thomas, while Nat nixes Thomas’ blatantly sexist composition “Boys Rule, Girls Drool/Boys Are Smart, Girls Are Stupid,” as well as Josh’s unabashedly boastful “I’m the God of Rock and Roll,” set to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

Established actress Draper, whose script for “The Tic Code,” loosely based on her husband’s childhood struggle with Tourette’s syndrome, won her kudos, here directs for the first time — and with considerable panache, though her attachment to Richard Lester-esque camera tricks does not always serve her well.

Like Roberto Rodriguez, who fashioned his “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D” screenplay from his offspring’s story, Draper has modeled her scenario on her sons’ actual behavior and musical compositions, set within the cliched rise-and-fall structures of VH-1’s “Behind the Music” bios.

The conceit proves hit-and-miss. Alex’s descent into lemon-and-lime sodaholicism after the band splits up produces a good visual gag of Alex curled up asleep amid mountains of aluminum cans, but falls off in subsequent scenes. On the other hand, the brothers’ relationship to their goofily enthusiastic, none-too-talented, accordion-playing dad (Michael Wolff) evolves with brio in all manner of unexpected directions.

Though child cast displays the kind of media savvy that Robert McGowan’s rascals splendidly avoided, their precocity is rarely merely cutesy. Luckily, the kids are really quite talented (their music, written solely by Nat Wolff, is aided in no small measure by musician dad Michael Wolff’s production expertise), and though band’s fictional worldwide popularity is unlikely to ever be replicated in truth, Nat may indeed find himself with a screaming pre-pubescent femme following.

Tech credits belie pic’s modest budget.

The Naked Brothers Band

Production

A Naked Brothers Band production. Produced by Ken H. Keller, Caron Rudner, Jonathan Pillot, Polly Draper, Michael Wolff. Executive producers, Tim Draper, Polly Draper, Wolff. Co-producer, Fotene Trigonis. Directed, written by Polly Draper.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Ken H. Keller; editor, Craig Cobb; music, Nat Wolff; music editor, John M. Davis; production designer, Rick Butler; sound (Dolby Digital), Eben Baume; supervising sound editor, Frederick Howard; casting, Deb Temco. Reviewed at Hamptons Film Festival (Spotlight), Oct. 23, 2005. Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Nat Wolff, Alex Wolff, Joshua Kaye, David Levi, Thomas Batuello, Cole Hawkins, Allie Dimeco, Michael Wolff, Jesse Draper, Jonathan Pillot, Uma Thurman, Julianne Moore, Arsenio Hall, Cyndi Lauper, Tony Shaloub.

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