The "mockumentary" format, revolutionized by the classic This Is Spinal Tap and spun off into a handful of successful Christopher Guest comedies and other lesser efforts, comes full circle in Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's Brothers Of The Head. Fulton and Pepe, who previously collaborated on the Terry Gilliam making-of documentaries The Hamster Factor (about 12 Monkeys) and Lost In La Mancha (about an aborted Don Quixote project), chronicle a fake musical outfit, too, but they've taking the "mock" part out of the equation. Based on Brian Aldiss' novel and adapted by Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas scribe Tony Grisoni, the film captures with all too much verisimilitude the rise and fall of a gimmicky rock combo that unravels through excess and heartbreak. Fulton and Pepe's refusal to play the material for obvious jokes or ironies dignifies what might have otherwise been a gimmicky project about a band fronted by conjoined twins. It still isn't terribly compelling, but that says more about the predictable trajectory of rock bands than it does about the filmmakers' undeniable skill.
Playing identical twins connected at the sternum, Harry and Luke Treadaway develop a subtle symbiosis that diverges slowly and tragically over time, not unlike that of the two Jeremy Ironses in Dead Ringers. Sold off by their father at an early age to a music impresario, the boys are groomed specifically to be a novelty-rock duo, but their inner turmoil finds a more natural outlet in the burgeoning '70s punk scene. Surrounded by indifferent session musicians and a manager that beats them into submission, the Treadaways record and tour as The Bang Bang, and accumulate a fan base as much for their talent as their stage concept. Yet they start to grow apart when Tania Emery, an attractive journalist hired as their biographer, takes a romantic interest in one of them.
In content more than form, Brothers Of The Head resembles Gus Van Sant's Kurt Cobain reverie Last Days, another story about the decline of a rock star amid an indifferent coterie of managers and hangers-on. The film succeeds most in capturing the isolation that goes along with fame; the brothers only have each other, and when love tears them apart, their loneliness becomes too much to bear. Yet Brothers isn't nearly as haunting and singular as Last Days, because the faux-documentary format too closely mirrors the Behind The Music trajectory of a thousand other rock-band flameouts. The leads' unusual nature is just a small twist on a familiar story.