This Is Spinal Tap is what Almost Famous would have been if Almost Famous didn’t take itself seriously. Where Famous follows the fictional band “Stillwater” on their rise to success and semi-biographically follows young journalist William — based on the real-life story of director Cameron Crowe — as he becomes a writer for Rolling Stone at age 15, This Is Spinal Tap follows fictitious British band “Spinal Tap” as they embark on a U.S. tour that all but finalizes that their days of glory are coming to an end (hint: watch as their venues get smaller and smaller). However, while the rockumentary-mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap is entirely satiric and parodical in its nature, its brilliance is right on par with Almost Famous, a movie I consider to be nearly perfect.
Directed by Rob Reiner, perhaps better known for his role directing The Princess Bride, This Is Spinal Tap balances that quintessential Bride humor with a genuine ode to ’80s rock band nostalgia that will warm hard rock, heavy metal hearts, and keep them laughing. The profile of the band starts with a typical interview, wherein the band hilariously describes the mysterious deaths of their various drummers throughout the band’s history. One, they claim, actually exploded. This becomes a theme as the movie progresses, and despite being simplistic in nature, never really stops being funny.
Another gem of this film is the reviews of the band and their various faux pas in the production process. From their album of “religious rock psalms,” to their continuously questioned raunchy album cover featuring a woman on all fours, viewers will find themselves simultaneously cringing, giggling, and face-palming with incredulity. And yet, the band members are just so damn authentic (well, maybe aside from the amazingly exaggerated British accents), we can’t help but keep buying into it, keep wondering, “What are these guys going to do next?” And the answers rarely disappoint.
The scene where the band is released from Alien-esque eggs on stage is Wayne’s World-level silly, and yet anyone who has watched the VHI1 concert series from any 80s rock concert knows that this kind of showmanship and set design is really not as far-fetched as one might think. And I suppose that’s the beauty of the film, and the key to any successful parody: that there is a degree of, and an earnest understanding of, truth to what is being mocked. The dialogue itself is really what captures this essence, as well as the lyrics of the songs actually being performed. At one point, Nigel Tufnel, Spinal Tap’s lead guitarist (played by Christopher Guest, the Six-Fingered Man from Princes Bride) is discussing one of newer works, a departure from his usual style, and describes the song as “sad” and “pretty” before then revealing the title of the work as “Lick My Love Pump.” Gotta love that sentiment.
Not to be under-rated, perhaps the funniest scene in this entire movie is the performance of the song “Stonehenge” and the accompanying set design, a reveal that left me all but rolling on the floor laughing in its simple, yet effective presentation (and accompanying dance routine). I’d tell you what happens, but really, it’s something you’ve got to see for yourself. Here’s a spoiler though: the intro to this number goes like this: “In ancient time, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, an ancient race of people…The Druids. No one knows who they were or what they were doing…” and it only goes downhill from there.
Of course, no ’80s rock band tribute would be complete without the band breaking up at one point, a significant milestone not lost on Reiner in Spinal Tap. Tufnel dramatically leaves the band after an equipment issue while the group is performing at a U.S. Air Force Base, and misses the group’s next gig at an amusement park amphitheater, where they share the bill with a puppet show act. However, Tufnel returns with the exciting news that Spinal Tap’s song “Sex Farm” has suddenly become huge in Japan (of course) and the band gets ready to set off on a wildly successful tour in Asia. Spinal Tap is saved, the band is back together, and only one casualty is suffered — can you guess who?
Perhaps the most delightful result of this film is that the fictional band Spinal Tap actually released not one, but two albums after the movie hit the box office. It seems that even in parody, there’s just something about those far-out, over-dramatic, amazingly-talented while equally arrogant rockers that people just can’t get enough of. Rob Reiner himself may have said it best in his role as Marty in the film — when asked if he has a creed he lives by, he responds, “Have…a good time…all the time.” Yup, that sounds about right.