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Movies
'Barenaked in America'

Almost famous: 'Barenaked in America' is a rockumentary dressed up for Ladies' fans

Friday, September 29, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

If the members of the band Barenaked Ladies played football, they'd specialize in the misdirection play. Make 'em think you're going here, and then run the other way.

The group's name itself is a tipoff. Yeah, all you drooling beer-swilling hogs hoping for breasts and booty, the Barenaked Ladies are guys -- five of them, hailing from Canada. They look as much like a rock band as the characters from "Dilbert." In fact, isn't that the bald guy, Wally, playing drums?

 
    'BARENAKED IN AMERICA'

RATING: Not rated; contains vulgar language and brief nudity

STARRING: Ed Robertson, Steven Page

DIRECTOR: Jason Priestley

CRITIC'S CALL: 21/2 stars.

 
 

Their songs feature catchy hooks and clever lyrics that take an off-center look at relationships. "If I had a million dollars," goes one, "I'd be rich." Another begs, "Let me be your Yoko Ono." And their big hit, "One Week," consists largely of yuppie pop-culture references spit out so speedily that you need to listen over and over just to decipher them all (in other words, buy the album so we can have a million dollars).

The origin of such phrases as "Chickety china, the Chinese chicken" is hinted at in "Barenaked in America," the documentary film now at Loews Waterfront that follows them on tour through our great nation and features concert footage from their gig in Buffalo at the time of their "Stunt" album.

Dedicated fans, I'm guessing, will eat it up. However, those who know little about the band or who are more casual followers of their music might well take a look at "Barenaked" and wonder: Is that all there is?

Director Jason Priestley, wandering far from the 90210 ZIP code, gives it to us straight. But the lack of serious attitude from either the filmmaker or his subjects leads to the question of why Barenaked Ladies rates a true-life biopic at this point in the band's life.

The closest we get to a statement comes in the opening scene, which shows lead guitarist Ed Robertson sitting on the toilet, not quite barenaked. There's also a curious lament from a Canadian music guru who talks about how Americans write off musicians once they learn of those who come from the Great White North. As my colleague Ed Masley says, "Yeah, that really hurt Neil Young."

On the other hand, it may help explain the recent TV rant by Priestley, himself born under the Maple Leaf, about how all his countrymen are disappearing.

The movie gets poignant when it addresses keyboardist Kevin Hearn's treatment for leukemia, which struck just as the band was hitting it big and about to go on its first major American tour (don't blink or you'll miss a shot of the Pittsburgh skyline and the inside of the Palumbo Center).

Priestley's film also suffers from its insistence on telling us instead of showing us. Now, I don't know if we really want to view the band's much-trumpeted fondness for going barenaked aboard its tour bus, although we are treated to the sight of fans flashing boobs and buns for a second or two. Occasionally, we see a band member holding a child, but the movie almost ignores the fact that they have families.

Mostly, we get an overview of the band's history and see some of its earlier taped appearances, including one on an Anne Murray TV Christmas special in which the thought of making mischief appears in their eyes but, alas, never erupts. The concert stuff is good except that Priestley keeps interrupting the songs. Otherwise, we get a lot of Robertson and lead singer Steven Page, both of them engaging fellows, talking about their approach to songwriting, performing and fans.

Attracting more of that all-important final ingredient seems the most likely raison d'etre (come on, they speak French in Canada, too) for the existence of "Barenaked in America." But the movie may be singing to the choir.


Go online to Movies 'n' Music at www.post-gazette.com/magazine for a teen take on pop culture.



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