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This is Spinal Tap (1984)

  Directed by: Rob Reiner
Written by: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Rob Reiner, Harry Shearer
Starring: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Rob Reiner, Harry Shearer
Links: This is Spinal Tap on the IMDb, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Comedy

This movie gets: 9.00 (1 rating)
nofreelist.com Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

This is Spinal Tap (1984) is also mentioned in mino's review of A Mighty Wind (2003), pearly's review of Best in Show (2000), pearly's review of Teddy Bears' Picnic (2002), mino's review of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) and mino's review of The Party's Over (2001).

"Just plain FUNNY." - a review by mino

This Is Spinal Tap is a movie which can best be described with one word: funny. It's not often that you can claim that a movie is wholeheartedly, unambiguously, almost 100% funny all the way through, but in this case, it's a perfectly acceptable claim.

The movie is, unsurprisingly, the story of the band Spinal Tap (the key members being played by impro comedy legends Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer), a metal group whose fame peaked in the 1970s and has been heading downhill ever since. It's made in the now-familiar ‘mockumentary style’, with director Rob Reiner playing filmmaker Marty Di Bergi, following the band around as they embark on a doomed tour of the US, blithely ignorant of the fact that they're not even remotely popular any more.

One of the things that strikes you about This Is Spinal Tap is the attention to detail. It's not just a thrown-together gag-fest: every character, every scene, is really quite lovingly crafted, all of which helps to make the movie seem so real that it's quite understandable that someone could watch it and not realise for a long time indeed that it's all fake. The fans, the hangers-on, the staff they bump into on their tour (like the Sinatra-loving chauffeur): everyone is both incredibly believable and hilariously funny.

The band themselves are just sublime. Each character is a delight, particularly McKean's superb lead singer, David St Hubbins, who has to be one of the funniest characters in any movie ever. Again, every last detail is important, too — every album name, song title, or lyric is funnier than the last, but all just believable enough to keep the illusion going on. Also noteworthy is the music; it's easy to write Spinal Tap off as a joke, but on rewatching the movie you're struck by how good the music is. It's genuinely better than half the stuff they're parodying, and compared to the closest comparison we have today — modern-day glam-rock parodists The Darkness — it's unbelievable how much funnier, clever, and more musically satisfying it is.

It's worth mentioning, too, that the story is actually quite involving and moving: you really feel for poor Spinal Tap as they go through their disastrous tour, and as interpersonal relationships threaten the very future of the band. It's easy to overlook the strengths of the movie as a movie, as opposed to as a comedy, but that would be a mistake. As well as being funny, it really sucks you in, to the point that you find yourself feeling quite upset watching the sad disintegration of the band — and then, of course, feel stupid for feeling sad when they throw the next gag right in your face.

This Is Spinal Tap is one of those movies that should age really poorly — after not having seen it for a while, you find yourself thinking ‘It can't be that good, can it? It's a one-joke movie’. But it's not — it's much much more than that. Not only is the main joke so brilliantly executed that you never get sick of it, even though by rights jokes about ‘hair bands’ should have stopped being fun ages ago, but there are many many jokes that you won't laugh at until the fifth time you see the movie. This isn't because you won't get them, but because you won't even realise that they are jokes — I know one person who must have seen the movie a dozen times and had never even noticed the joke about the band playing the ‘Isle of Lucy Festival’.

Needless to say, Fred Willard's brief appearance is a delight, and the gobsmackingly funny interviews under the closing credits are a great way to finish off the movie.

The fact that This Is Spinal Tap got the Guest/McKean/Shearer partnership together, and kicked off such a wonderful string of later movies (Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003), even Shearer's inferior but still amusing Teddy Bears' Picnic (2002)), makes it worthwhile on its own; the fact that it's a totally brilliant comedy makes it something else again. I've seen it maybe eight or nine times, and I still laughed my patootie off this time around. It's wonderful.

mino gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 18 Jan 2005

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