I finally caught up with Sacha Gervasi’s Anvil: The Story of Anvil on DVD recently, which, despite the best, cajoling efforts of the crack publicity staff at 42 West, I’d missed during its theatrical run earlier in the year. And it’s a big-hearted thing, no doubt. But nagging problems persist, and I wasn’t as totally wowed as I wanted to be, truth be told.
The well received documentary centers on heavy metal act Anvil’s two founding members, guitarist-frontman Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, Ontario-born pals since their formative teenage years, and specifically their attempts at forging a comeback/commercial breakthrough with their 13th album, even as they edge into their 50s. I felt a bit conned, honestly, at the degree to which the movie’s wonderful trailer, both heartbreaking and funny at the same time, misrepresents the level of bumbled disgrace of their European tour, and also under-represents the functional longevity of the group (e.g., this wasn’t some half-cocked reunion gig, as Anvil has continued to put out records and eke out a meager, supplemented existence with native gigs aplenty). But, fine: it’s selling the drama. I get it.
Most irritatingly, though, there’s just the sense the film holds back on certain details, playing a couple cards close to the vest in order to maintain favor with the band, and present a pruned narrative that fits within the prescribed template of underdogs-stick-to-artistic-guns-and-make-good. That’s not cool. Most of this feeling relates to the portrayal of English-mangling Euro-manager Tiziana Arrigoni, who during production is apparently dating one of the newer members of the group (they later wed). The explanation of how she came into the Anvil collective is perfunctory, and when things go off the rails in Europe, one gets the feeling that a lot of the recrimination and finger-pointing is left off-screen. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty here to love, and the movie consistently connects courtesy of Kudlow’s woolly charisma, and the yin-yang allure of his thick-as-blood relationship with Reiner. It’s just that Gervasi clearly doesn’t have an interest in asking a lot of tough questions of his beloved subjects, and that harms the film’s emotional punch in the end; it doesn’t bruise quite like it should.