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'Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns)'

They might be movie stars

Friday, July 04, 2003

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

It's to their credit that the two Johns of They Might Be Giants -- Linnell and Flansburgh -- would never take their music or themselves as seriously as the more enamored talking heads that director AJ Schnack has gathered here to sing their praises.

 
 
"GIGANTIC (A TALE OF TWO JOHNS)"

RATING: Not rated, but includes a few expletives.

STARRING: John Linnell, John Flansburgh

DIRECTOR: AJ Schnack

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Sue Drew, the woman who signed the duo to Elektra in the '80s, hails them as "the vanguard of alternative."

And even that could pass as faint praise compared to a few of the more embarrassing fan-girl testimonials of critic Sarah Vowell.

But look beyond the overselling that's typical of any documentary on a rock band and you're left with a cute little film that's as easy to like -- and frequently as funny -- as the Johns themselves.

Sen. Paul Simon sets the stage with a knowingly overly serious opening monologue that segues from a serious discussion of Abraham Lincoln to the two Johns meeting as kids in Lincoln, Mass.

Other cameos include two-thirds of Spinal Tap reciting lyrics. And Michael McKean's performance -- at the risk of slighting Harry Shearer -- is worth the price of two admissions.

The Johns themselves, of course, are just as funny. But the tendency to crack jokes doesn't stop them from sharing some serious insights, even when seated in living room chairs along the riverbank with New York City looming comically across the pond.

There's music, too, from "Don't Let's Start" to "Boss of Me" -- electrifying, entertaining, innovative music that finds humor in the saddest things while finding inspiration in the most unlikely places (James K. Polk, a nightlight, hoping to get old before they die). In fact, between the live performance clips and videos (especially the early ones), the music makes a stronger case than Vowell or Drew or Michael Azerrad could ever hope to make for why they should be giants.

And despite some lulls, their story holds the viewer's interest in a way that shouldn't necessarily depend on being a fan -- although I am one, so I couldn't say for sure.


Ed Masley can be reached at emasley@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.

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