Sacha Gervasi’s tremendously funny, yet achingly painful, documentary chronicles the attempted resurgence of the titular ’80s metal also-rans. Anvil! The Story of Anvil is among the year’s best films, and one of the most consistently entertaining documentaries I’ve seen in a while (at least since The King of Kong a couple years back). At heart, Gervasi is obviously a fan — and Anvil’s early ’80s music is at least as good as most of their contemporaries’ output — but the scathing irony of this film is just how blissfully ignorant singer/guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner really are in regards to the current quality of their music. These guys are decades behind the curve (in more ways than one) yet they somehow seem to be the only ones unaware of their irrelevance. When an opportunity arises for Anvil to once again tour Europe, the band understandably jumps at the chance, leaving behind their work-a-day lives for the embrace of life-long fans. Very few of these fans actually show up to the gigs however, and the tour itself is plagued by shady promoters, in-fighting and crushed spirits. These guys are like Spinal Tap come to life, yet it’s their will to succeed, coupled with Kudlow’s unrelenting optimism, that makes Anvil so engrossing, and such an emotionally affecting experience.
The film becomes almost laughably tragic: When the band finally books a promising gig at a Japanese rock festival, they discover that their set has been scheduled at a time that will likely leave them playing to venue employees and few else. Still Anvil forge on, powered by confidence in their new material and seemingly touched by the indelible spirits of the rock gods. Their climactic final revelation is both satisfying and well earned, particularly coming after 80 minutes (and 25 years) of missed opportunities and mistakes made along the way. Anvil’s music may no longer hold any cultural cache, but it’s nearly impossible not to root for these guys to realize at least some of the rock star dreams they’ve long sought, toiling away for over two decades in near anonymity. As a music critic, I have to be honest and say you would do well to avoid most of their music; however, as a film critic, I say this band just so happens to star in one of the year’s best films thus far.