Barenaked in America

1999, NR, 92 min. Directed by Jason Priestly.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Thu., Oct. 19, 2000

There’s just something about nice guys from Canada: Michael J. Fox, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Rick Moranis - Barenaked Ladies? Sure enough, these Top 40 pop-rockers are the sweetest Canucks around. Or at least, that’s what the tour documentary, Barenaked in America, would have us believe, and I’m not inclined to argue. Directed by 90210 vet Jason Priestly (first-time feature director and, wouldn’t you know it, another nice-guy Canadian), this new doc follows the band around on the American tour of their best-selling breakthrough album, Stunt. I hunkered down somewhat reluctantly to watch Barenaked in America; truth be told, the band inspired in me about as much enthusiasm as a tractor pull. But the five to eight guys who make up Barenaked Ladies are so utterly goofball, they’re at least amusing to watch. Priestly and crew are there to capture every moment of pure adolescent joy, including an unsuccessful attempt to raid the White House (the band doesn’t make it past the gates) and their persistent efforts to goad others into gettin’ nekkid (they offer one concertgoer $1,000 to unwrap his packaging). They presumably gave Priestly unlimited access and, indeed, the camera does go everywhere (co-lead singer Ed Robertson likes to wax poetic from the toilet). You get the feeling the band is never unaware there’s a camera there, which means lots of hamming it up, but they never seem uncomfortable, either. The doc divides its time between straightforward interviews, random snapshots of the band’s shenanigans, and a good amount of concert footage, all ably shot. The live stuff is sure to please hard-core fans, but it’s actually pretty engrossing even for those less Barenaked-inclined. Underneath the dork veneer are professional showmen who know how to give the audience a good time, pounding out the hits as well as some fun impromptu moments. (An homage to Sesame Street’s near/far skit, in which the entire band runs to the front of the stage and yells “near!” then runs to the back end to yell “far!” is a winning moment to be sure.) Some man-on-the-street interviews prove particularly funny, considering most of the people approached either have never heard of the band or quite adamantly think that they suck. Tossed in to the mix are some absurd bits with Jon Stewart, Jeff Goldblum, and Andy Richter and a heartfelt substory involving pianist Kevin Hearn’s recent struggle with leukemia. The doc is occasionally uneven and pretty lacking in structure, but these are less flaws than sidenotes. Overall, Barenaked in America makes for a playfully enthralling hour and a half, even if you’d just soon as soon keep the clothes on.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Barenaked in America, Jason Priestly

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