|Barenaked in America
review by Dan Lybarger, 29 September 2000
A few minutes into Barenaked
in America, singer-guitarist Eric Robertson of the Canadian band
Barenaked Ladies greets the audience perched on top of a toilet.
Despite the title and the provocative opening, this rockumentary
winds up being not nearly as revealing as promised.
Director Jason Priestley (best
known for starring on Beverly
Hills 90210) follows the band during their 1998 tour for the
album Stunt. The year was
especially eventful for Barenaked Ladies because they scored their
first number one hit in the U.S. with the single One Week.
Considering the fact that they literally started off on playing on
street corners in the early 'ninties, this is no small achievement.
Priestly even includes a bizarre clip thatís apparently their
video debut. Be My Yoko Ono feature the band crouched to fit
a closeup of all of the members into a single shot. Somehow the
group managers to play well despite the claustrophobic environment.
They also project a kind of goofy charm that makes the static clip
Since that time, Barenaked Ladies
have gone from a Canadian Cult band to a presence on the American
charts. They and their music would hardly seem the type to make such
a crossover appeal. Their blending of rap, country, rock and catchy
pop hooks falls into no easily classifiable genre. The band members
themselves are not handsome enough to be teen idols, and while their
behavior on stage is often outrageous (bassist Jim Creeggan
performed on an Anne Murray Christmas special sporting an
interesting shade of lipstick), it is hardly shocking. The group
devote large portions of their shows to long jams where Robertson
and Steven Page deliver surprisingly tight improvised vocals. In
this post-Woodstock age when many bands merely perform mechanical,
lip synced rehashes of their hits, the Ladies devotion to
spontaneity is refreshing.
Curiously, the musical offerings in
Barenaked in America seem a bit scant. Priestley, who is Canadian,
devotes too much of the film to the bandís conquest of their
neighbors to the south. Much of the talking head commentary about
the music scene in the Great White North is dull and not terribly
insightful. One particularly needless scene, involves the band
members wandering through Washington D.C. asking if the locals have
heard of them. While the Ladies seem to find it amusing, the
sequence makes them come off as smug jerks. Priestly includes some
comments by celebrities like Jeff Goldblum and Jon Stewart, who have
little to say about the group. Priestlyís lack of selectivity is
especially glaring when the band members excitedly talk about how
success has allowed them to incorporate elaborate stage shows. The
film shows none of these fancy lighting tricks. For a visual medium
like film, this is a wasted opportunity.
Fortunately there are plenty of
moments that make this worth a peek, even for the groupís casual
fans. One fascinating segment consists of Page arguing with the
director of the video for Itís All Been Done. Itís the
sort of behind-the-scenes sequence that horrifies most managers and
publicists. Thereís also a moving side story about keyboardist
Kevin Hearnís battle with leukemia. He leaves the tour to
convalesce at the height of the groupís success. The movie ends
with him rejoining the group after the successful recovery. The
groupís songs during this segment take on a bittersweet edge that
thankfully remains genuine. The sight of Hearn jamming with his
partners makes up for some drivel that proceeded it.