The third entry in Shooting Gallery’s fall series of independent films (for more information, log on to movies.yahoo.com/sgfilmseries) is a reasonably competent but hardly revelatory rockumentary about the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies, concentrating on their recent U.S. tour. Perhaps the thing most people will find intriguing about the picture is that it’s directed by actor Jason Priestley, who’s done some really fine work in recent years (most notably the superb 1997 “Love and Death on Long Island” with John Hurt); but unhappily his contribution, along with that of editor Al Flett, is the weakest element of the piece.
The subjects themselves are engaging, articulate guys who all seem genuinely likable fellows, and the excerpts from their stage performances are very enjoyable indeed. But Priestley and Flett, except for a few moments, haven’t really found a way to juxtapose the concert footage and interview sequences in a way that shows any particular cinematic energy or imagination. The result is a very standard-issue documentary, with brief musical interludes (much too brief, in fact, during the first hour) interspersed with talking-head shots of conversations and not-terribly-revealing episodes filmed during the group’s journeys (as well as an occasional staged moment, as when Priestley himself enters the scene during a Washington stop). There are, to be sure, occasionally clever sequences–a montage showing fans’ (and some non-fans’) reactions to the band’s music is a nifty idea, and the players’ own concerns about a video-in-progress offer a few intriguingly “inside” observations–but apart from a couple of offhanded remarks, the guys’ offstage lives aren’t touched on much. (The one major exception is the illness of Kevin Hearn, the keyboardist, which happily isn’t treated in too maudlin a fashion but still isn’t as effective a wraparound device as the makers clearly intended.) And, quite honestly, the picture’s repeated emphasis on the fact that the band is Canadian, and the contention that U.S. attitudes toward their northern neighbor are at best conflicted, seems overdone.
In the final analysis “Barenaked in America” isn’t innovative or cinematically interesting enough to rate as a significant documentary, and even the committed will probably be disappointed that it isn’t more revealing (and that it isn’t until the last thirty minutes that we’re treated to extended performance excerpts, which are then done so straightforwardly as to be a trifle flat). But the music is pleasant, the band members amusing, and the film an inoffensive time-waster, especially for the already converted. It probably won’t win over many new fans, though.