This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Mockumentary, Showbiz Comedy  |   Run Time - 82 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Mark Deming

If there has ever been a funnier and truer film about rock music than This Is Spinal Tap, no one has had the courage to show it in public. Rob Reiner's hilarious mockumentary chronicle of the misadventures of a group of intellectually challenged British rock musicians touring the U.S. manages to laugh at and with its protagonists at the same time. While the unending cluelessness of Spinal Tap's core members, David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), is a marvel to behold (especially the scene in which Nigel is baffled by the miniature pumpernickel on the deli tray), the leading characters also exude a goofy charm. As we watch their career slowly collapse around them, it's difficult not to feel a certain sympathy while laughing at their travails (it helps that they've seen enough of this coming to be more annoyed than despairing about their careers). Guest, McKean, and Shearer, who improvised most of the film's material, all did time in rock bands in the 1960s and '70s, and it seems as if they didn't forget a thing; no one who has ever been in a band, no matter how lowly, will fail to recognize the arguments at rehearsal, the on-stage screwups, the frustration of getting lost en route to a show, the thrill of hearing yourself on the radio, the chore of playing for an audience that doesn't care, and the excitement of a show that goes over. While This Is Spinal Tap takes deadly (and wildly funny) aim at the absurdities of the music business and the pompous excesses of the heavy metal scene, it's also made by people who understand the kick of a good rock show (for both performer and audience), and much of the humor comes from the fact that this seemingly absurd tale is not far at all from the truth.