TV / Movie Reviews

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: This is Spinal Tap “84”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Mockumentary/Stars: Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, Tony Hendra, R.J. Parnell, David Kaff, June Chadwick, Bruno Kirby, Ed Begley Jr., Danny Kortchmar, Fran Drescher, Patrick Macnee, Julie Payne, Dana Carvey, Sandy Helberg, Zane Buzby, Billy Crystal, Paul Benedict, Howard Hesseman, Paul Shortino, Lara Cody, Andrew J. Lederer, Russ Kunkel, Victory Tischler-Blue, Joyce Hyser, Gloria Gifford, Paul Shaffer, Archie Hahn, Charles Levin, Anjelica Huston, Donald Kendrick, Fred Willard, Wonderful Smith, Robert Bauer/Runtime: 83 minutes

I think it is fairly to say that whilst good comedy is something that might just be a wonderful commodity in cinema, great and even brilliant comedy is a commodity that will usually result in that particular slice of cinema where said comedy is found becoming completely and utterly timeless in the best way possible. It is with that in mind that I can also say that the iconic decade known as the 1980s really did give us some of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. In fact, I can think of a pair of them right off the top of my head and how they differ. The first of those is a slice of cinema known as Airplane which was a send-up of disaster films, a series of films known as the Airport films, and a film from 1957 known as Zero Hour. Unfortunately for as comedic brilliant as the film is, there are several of the film’s finest moments that might have “modern audiences” confused because their cultural timeliness has faded a little bit. On the other hand, I feel that the second slice of cinema, and film that I am reviewing today, This Is Spinal Tap from 1984 is one that has aged fairly gracefully. In fact, I think you could even maybe (just maybe mind you) make the argument that this is one slice of cinema that works even more effortlessly in the here and now than when it first came out in theaters. I mean this is a slice of cinema that has an objective in mind of poking quite a bit of fun at the idea of over the hell rock and rollers choosing to become involved in going on comeback tours or making reunion albums and even though there was a fair bit of this that did occur in the time that this slice of cinema came out, it’s a concept that is happening a lot more nowadays. Yet despite how much of a significant degree film helmer Rob Reiner and his talented cast and crew choose to engage in towards making an outright mockery of the rockunmentary in this slice of cinema, this is still one that due in large part to both how varied and the upstanding quality of the comedy on display, this slice of cinema is one that I feel with 99.5% certainty is going to be loved by darn near anyone who chooses to give it a view. Indeed this slice of cinema is one that manages to incorporate everything from moments that will have you laughing until your sides hurt all the way to iconic moments that will see even the most stoic and emotionally lacking of you out there actually managing to cracking a genuine smile at what you are seeing unfold on screen before you. Suffice it to say that ever since the long gone year that is 1984, there have been quite a few slices of cinema that have imitated this one, but at the end of the day I can safely say that absolutely none of those other movies have managed to accomplish what this immensely talented cast, crew, and helmer managed to pull off in this bona-fide comedy classic.

The plot is as follows: This is Spinal Tap is a slice of cinema that chooses to regale us with the “true story” (wink, wink) of a particularly noteworthy band by the name of Spinal Tap that has sadly been on a seriously rapid downward spiral towards being viewed by the musical community as no more and no less than has-beens. Indeed in the aftermath of two solid decades, quite a few band mate transitions in a particular slot in the lineup that I will leave for them to explain themselves, and making changes to stay timely, the titular band has managed to go from a low budget Beatles all the way to an 80s metal band right down to the spandex and shouting lyrics. Of course, we soon see that our guide through this comedic madness is a celebrated film maker/ self-confessed fan boy of the band named Marty DiBergi and who the band has hired to film the band’s latest tour to promote their new album Smell the Glove and all the “sights, sounds, and smells” associated with it. Of course as we all know often the best laid plans of mice and men tend to go awry, but in this case I will leave it for you to discover just how awry things manage to hilariously go.

Now right off the bat I should point out that This Is Spinal Tap is a slice of cinema that is constructed to not only resemble the work done by Scorsese on his equally as incredible musical documentary The Last Waltz and maybe a smidge of the wonderful Beatles’ documentary A Hard Day’s Night included in the mix, but also as a seemingly realistic low-budget documentary-style slice of cinema. Yet it soon becomes apparent that film helmer Rob Reiner is not just poking fun at the titular band, but is also poking fun at the music industry as well as documentary filmmakers in general. Yet even in the face of possessing such a sharp bite, This Is Spinal Tap soon reveals itself to be a significantly more soft hearted and actually close to respectful parody. This is best personified by the fact that the titular band is characterized as affable enough goof balls to the point that yes we chuckle at them and their various shenanigans/misadventures, but we also care about them as people which I suspect is what Reiner wanted us to do all along. I mean there are so many entries in the comedy genre that are guilty of not allowing the audience to get to where they actually start to care about what happens to the heroes of their respective slice of cinema. Yet it is in this arena that that This is Spinal Tap manages to score perhaps its finest success (and in a slice of cinema that is pretty much an unequivocal success in darn near every aspect that is saying quite a lot). Indeed this slice of cinema is a collection of instantly iconic moments that also are all moments that I strongly suspect could also have occurred at some point in time to any of the legendary 80s heavy metal bands back in the day…or rather those bands whose members had an equal amount of ego, over the top delusions of grandeur, and not exactly the highest I.Q. scores in the world. Indeed these moments include the band being forced to play smaller venues when the bigger ones start to dry up including a military ball and being the second banana to a (no joke) puppet show. We also see that when our intrepid group of rock and rollers make an appearance for an autograph session for their latest musical work, an album known as Smell the Glove that has a completely black cover since its original design consisting of a woman in the nude smelling a glove was firmly turned down by the record companies, we soon discover that the band winds up being the only people in the music store where the autograph session is taking place. Of course, there is also the prerequisite jokes involving the band getting lost behind the scenes before one concert as well as all kinds of gags and pratfalls involving various props (including one involving iconic landmark Stonehenge that has to be seen to be believed), clashing of egos from within the band itself, and (of course) one of the band having a nightmare of a girlfriend, but at least she thankfully doesn’t look anything like Yoko Ono. Yet perhaps this slice of cinema’s more underrated efforts in terms of comedy is how this slice of cinema’s intrepid group of rock and rollers manage to act just like a real rock and roll band in terms of the degree of ego that they are operating with. It’s also worth noting that whilst yes the band’s songs might not exactly inspire one to think of greatness from an artistic perspective, but hats off to Reiner and his creative team for making sure the music does represent a fairly well done copy of the kind of heavy metal music one might have seen on the market in the 80s as well as for ensuring that the lyrics to said music are just the right degree of off-kilter to be amusing without ever once going too far. Yet perhaps the biggest reason that Spinal Tap is as successful as it turns out to be is maybe just maybe how loud they are. I mean this is a band whose amplifiers’’ volume scale, despite the typical amplifier only going to a max of 10, goes all the way up to 11….I mean that HAS to be a reason…..right?

Jokes aside however, another key component that makes this slice of cinema soar and succeed on the level that it does is the truly winning work done by this slice of cinema’s gifted cast. This starts with the film’s director Rob Reiner and he is absolutely fantastic as Marty DiBergi. Indeed equal parts skilled film helmer and devoted fan boy, Reiner does a wonderful job at giving us a man who is literally given his dream job in the form of filming his favorite band’s comeback tour of sorts, but who quickly (and hilariously) find he is being subject to way more than he could ever have imagined and Reiner sells it hook, line, and sinker. Of course, the main quartet who make up the titular band from some guy who looks like that guy Harry Shearer who played the slimy reporter in the 1998 “Godzilla” and does a lot of voices on that long-running animated show The Simpsons to another guy who looks like a guy named Christopher Guest who directed some equally as funny comedies like Best in Show and A Mighty Wind and another one who looks like some guy named Michael McKean who was on SNL, Better Call Saul, and in the cinematic adaptation of Clue all do a downright phenomenal job not only in looking the parts, but acting the way you think a group of somewhat talented yet slightly egotistical and over the hill rockers would act. Yet besides the main group of truly gifted performers that make up both the band and the wonderfully eager fanboy that is the documentary’s film helmer Marty DiBergi respectively, this slice of cinema makes the brilliant choice to surround them with an equally as gifted support cast that from Fran Drescher and Patrick Macnee all the way to to Dana Carvey to Billy Crystal all do a wonderful job of acting like this is a slice of reality and that they are actually their respective parts rather than actors playing characters in a work of fiction. At the same time however, the gluttony of familiar faces in the supporting cast does also have a bit of tragic fallout to it since all the recognizable names, whenever any of them pop up in this, do kind of take away from the realistic approach this faux documentary is attempting to maintain. However in the grand scheme of things this is but a minor quibble and one that can be easily overlooked given how phenomenal the rest of the film is.

All in all I am very proud to say that the slice of cinema that is This is Spinal Tap might just very well be one of the finest fictional nonfictional slices of cinema that the land of movie magic has sought fit to bless us as movie goers with. Indeed not only is this slice of cinema absolutely a complete and utter laugh riot to say nothing of a smile-inducing joy from beginning to end to view, but it is also, even in the face of being set during that iconic time that is the 1980s, a slice of cinema that is completely and utterly timeless and one that manages to go beyond the subject material at the heart of its narrative whilst also being able to both leisurely play out despite a fairly efficient 83-minute runtime and also being quite thoroughly approachable to every single audience member who chooses to give this slice of a cinema a view no matter what generation they are a part of to say nothing of what genre of music they enjoy be it “country”, jazz, hip-hop, or even the kind of rock and roll at the heart of this slice of cinema (imagine that). Indeed if you think that this slice of cinema might be for you then all I ask is that you bring to it the ability to be open minded, but also be ready to laugh since those are the only two components that I feel are required to both see This is Spinal Tap, but also really appreciate everything that this slice of cinema. Thus This is Spinal Tap is not just a top-flight entry on the resumes of everyone involved, but is also one of the definitive 80s films as well as wonderful proof of what movie magic can look like when it is allowed to operate at its absolute finest. On a scale of 1-5 I proudly give This is Spinal Tap a solid 4.5 out of 5.

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