[Film Fest] Director Sacha Gervasi obviously understands the shadow that This Is Spinal Tap casts over his documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil, his chronicle of the long-lived, never-quite-made-it Canadian heavy metal band for which he was once a roadie in the 1980s. During a recording session, he zooms in on an amplifier where the numbers go to 11; he follows band members on a tourist trek to Stonehenge. Even the band members themselves understand that they’re living a Spinal Tap-esque existence, as a backstage walk through a tiny venue’s blank hallways inspires a shout of “Hello, Cleveland!” I mean, the drummer’s name is Robb Reiner (as opposed to the single-b Rob Reiner who directed Spinal Tap). It seems like they were doomed from birth to these comparisons.
But there’s something even more poignant about Anvil!, because it’s all real. Founding members Reiner and singer/guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow – childhood pals now in their 50s, supporting themselves with day jobs like delivering school lunches – soldier on at turning their 35-year project into something that will finally draw the wide acclaim that always eluded them, despite inspiring speed-metal legends like Anthrax, Megadeth and Metallica. And Gervasi, allowed extraordinary access thanks to his longtime association with the band, discovers both a tale of almost absurd persistence and a sweet tribute to Kudlow and Reiner’s friendship. Ultimately, those two ideas become impossible to separate: As much as they love making the music, you get the feeling that they also can’t give up the bond that keeps them together.
At times, Anvil! hits some of the cringingly hilarious comic high notes of Spinal Tap: watching Kudlow try to raise money for a studio session by doing high-pressure telemarketing; a gig at a Prague nightclub where the owner tries to pay them in bowls of goulash; a performance at the wedding reception of the band’s other guitarist. But there’s one other crucial way that Anvil deserves comparison to This Is Spinal Tap: It has fun with its subject, but never loses respect for their commitment. A room full of critics broke into spontaneous applause at one point, recognizing an improbably heroic moment for the band. How much more awesome could a salute to these guys be? The answer is none. None more awesome. (Scott Renshaw)