This Is Spinal Tap

This Is Spinal Tap

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

This satirical documentary takes  a lighthearted, yet somehow biting, look at the music business through the lens of the fictional band Spinal Tap.

Rob Reiner takes a look inside British heavy metal icons Spinal Tap, chronicling their rise, heyday and fall.  Nothing is off limits, with the record industry, groupies, wanton lineup changes, tour managers, promotional stunts and the Yoko Effect all targeted for mockery.  We’re treated to Spinal Tap’s halcyon days of arena tours as well as their fall to the depths of performing at county fairs and opening for puppet shows at the zoo.

The performances are all spot-on, but Michael McKean truly stands out in the role of frontman David St. Hubbins.  Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer both technically fill supporting roles, but do so with such fierce individuality and commitment to the character that Guest could just as easily carry the film and neither the film, nor the band, could exist in the same way without Shearer as the accidental straight man.  That straight man approach is where this film truly shines – there’s real beauty its understated humor.  Yes, there are plenty of over the top, laugh out loud moments, but the simpler humor of things like trying to make due with ill-conceived stage props and complaining about backstage catering keep the whole film wildly amusing without overdoing it – they serve to keep the whole thing believable and relatable.  Instead of moving from one good laugh to the next, even the “down time” is funny but so expertly crafted that you still feel a pause and a suspension of disbelief.

The surprise with this film isn’t that it became a cult classic, it’s that it didn’t become a mainstream hit.  This movie cranks the volume up to 11 and – as they say – if it’s too loud, you’re too old.

 

Stars: 4.5/5

 

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