There’s a real under current of sadness and tragedy behind Rob Reiner’s “This is Spinal Tap.” As character Marty DiBergi, a commercial director looking to break in to film, Reiner stands back and films Spinal Tap, a group that is literally running against the clock to make some impact on music. Granted, the threesome of inept rock stars love music to death, but the sad fact is in all the years they’ve made music, they haven’t influenced anyone, nor have they managed to become legends like the Beatles or Led Zeppelin. Since music is an ever evolving and fickle medium, Spinal Tap has spent many decades trying to roll with the changing demand for different music and have literally lost all sense of their own identity. They produce massive presentations during concerts about druids and gothic cocoons, neither of which they have any interest in, and during desperate attempts to seem chic, they fail spectacularly.
One laugh out loud performance sees bassist Derek Smalls stuck in a plastic cocoon set to open in sync with the group, and a miscalculation in measurements views the trio performing to an eighteen inch model of Stonehenge. And yet, in spite of their bad music, and hilariously deluded sense of being, they’re still very empathetic and lovable characters that the trio of Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and Christopher Guest play with sheer brilliance. They commit to the roles of Spinal Tap, and seem to take every hit in stride. “This is Spinal Tap” is the film that follows the fictional band on the verge of a new album release, but behind the scenes they’ve oblivious to the fact that no one is interested in what they’re doing and that their executives and publicists are literally driving themselves crazy trying to garner interest from music fans from this somewhat terrible rock band. Most of “This is Spinal Tap” is a hilarious observation on the group’s deluded sense of optimism and how they view themselves as a whole.
During one hysterical scene Nigel Tufnel demonstrates a beautiful piano melody for director DiBergi explaining the title of it as “Lick My Love Pump,” and in an interview with DiBergi, the trio spend twenty minutes making exceptions for terrible reviews they’ve received for literally every album they’ve ever released (“The review for “Shark Sandwich” was merely a two word review which simply read “Shit Sandwich””), and continue to try for rock fame in spite of the evident writing on the wall. Publicists murmur in backgrounds about their dwindling fan base, and their inability to book large stadiums anymore, while one moment of a gabby limo driver (as played with pure sardonic zeal by Bruno Kirby) turns in to an explanation that suffering can sometimes define an artist, and sadly, Spinal Tap hasn’t taken their licks to be considered actual artists. Of course Reiner draws parallels to the Beatles as Guest as Tuffnel and McKean as St. Hubbins are basically Lennon and McCartney, two music fanatics that grew up together and fell in love with music, sans the success. They’ve spent most of their lives merely trying to find that musical genre that could grant them critical and fan acclaim to no avail.
While Shearer is a double for Ringo Starr, a band mate who came in late in the game, and spends most of his time as an objective third party. He spends most of his time soaking in the wealth and watching the trio disassemble with the introduction of St. Hubbins’ intrusive and manipulative girlfriend Jeanine in the finale, who ultimately becomes the undoing of the band, in many ways. “This is Spinal Tap” is consistently funny, with sheer brilliant turns from every performer on the cast, all of whom depict this trio of rockers about to fade away, whom are fighting to stay relevant. There’s the mysterious deaths of Spinal Tap’s revolving door of drummers, the odd fan base of homosexual Asian men for the group, and the scene where the trio gets lost on the way to the stage during a performance. Reiner’s rock mockumentary is the gold standard for musical satire, and one that hasn’t shown a single wrinkle. Director Rob Reiner’s “This is Spinal Tap” has set the template for any and all future mock documentaries, and as a parade of raw comedic talent paired with classic comic tragedy, it offers up a ton of laughs, and a story of great substance.