Before this film had even been released, the comparisons to Spinal Tap were coming from all quarters, including, it seems, the film’s creators and promoters. There’s good reason too, because the parallels between the two films are uncanny, especially considering that one is parody and the other reality. While director Sacha Gervasi surely emphasized the similarities in the two stories (did that amp really go to 11?), it worked well as a vehicle to show how life is sometimes stranger than fiction.
Anvil’s story is one of amazing frustration. While early albums Hard n Heavy and Metal on Metal as well as their 1984 appearance at the Super Rock Festival in Japan made it seem like they were on the crest of a huge wave, when that wave broke the band found that they had missed it while just about every band around them got the ride of their lives. But unlike many of those bands, Anvil is still at it, enduring the hardships of touring and recording while maintaining regular jobs, engaged in what is typically a young man’s game.
The film shows everything from a star-struck Lips meeting artists with whom he should be peers to him in a near brawl with a club owner who refuses to pay the band to Lips and Robb Reiner nearly in tears as they mend their friendship for perhaps the millionth time in their 30+ years together. It dabbles in their family life, giving the fullest possible picture of what their pact to rock together forever means.
I expected a good bit of comedy that this film did not deliver. Sure, there were funny parts, but to its credit, I was often far too caught up in the humanity of the story to laugh at it. By no mean an actual tearjerker, beware that the film can nonetheless get the eyes welled up in a couple spots as Anvil’s desperation is much easier to internalize than perhaps anyone might suspect.
While Spinal Tap is a great rock n roll movie that manages to expose some truth about rock n roll and tops all for pure entertainment value, Anvil the Movie is an even better film. The latter might not have nearly the comedic value as the former, but it illustrates perhaps rock n roll’s greatest truth: There’s more to it than just songwriting and technical proficiency. Rock n roll, at its core, requires heart and soul and in that sense, Anvil is a better band than all those around them who went on to sell millions of albums. Lesser men would have given up long ago. Ultimately, this is a film that appeals not only to metal fans, but to rock fans in general and, even more broadly, to anyone who understands dreams and the struggle to achieve them.
Maybe this time, things will work out for the guys in Anvil (or at least Lips might be able to pay his sister back).