Spinal Tap are back. Sort of
DIRECTED BY Christopher Guest
STARRING Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Eugene Levy
Opens January 16, Cert 15, 91 minutes
Since 1984’s indestructible This Is Spinal Tap, Christopher Guest has turned his spoofumentary skills on regional theatre with Waiting For Guffman and the outlandish world of pedigree dog contests in Best In Show. This time, reunited with co-writer Eugene Levy, he takes aim at American ’60s folk music.
The movie bristles with assured comic performances from Guest’s repertory company of wise-asses, not least in the director’s reunion with his old Tap buddies Michael McKean and Harry Shearer as The Folksmen. Some great laughs are provided by dumb and raucous manager Mike LaFontaine (Fred Willard) and Jonathan Steinbloom (Bob Balaban), the latter organising a grand memorial concert for his late father, folk doyen Irving Steinbloom. The relationship between former folk-boom sweethearts Mitch & Mickey, with Mitch now reduced to a mumbling husk of a man by a string of nervous breakdowns and Mickey married to a catheter salesman obsessed with model trains, squirts a trace of pathos into the comic brew.
The problem for many audiences is likely to be the lack of recognition of the world being parodied. You’d imagine that any pastiche of American folk from this period would involve a few sly jabs in the direction of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary, but Guest has gone for the less durable likes of The New Christy Minstrels (presumably the models for the film’s idiotically colour-coordinated New Main Street Singers). Rock’n’roll fans will know that folk music was the stuff that got turned into folk-rock by Dylan and The Byrds, but there’s no sense of that wider musical world here, while The Folksmen’s unsingable dirge about the Spanish Civil War is the only glimpse of folk’s political pretensions.
It may be that Guest’s real affection for folk music has clipped his satirical claws. Best, then, to sit back and enjoy Tap-like moments, like the revelation that The Folksmen were once signed to a label too cheapskate to punch holes in the middle of their LPs, or savour the boneheaded incompetence of PR consultants Amber Cole and Wally Fenton. Some great laughs, though it’s less than a great movie.