SameDiff BNL

Glimpse At BNL Is A Fan's Delight

By JOAN ANDERMAN, Boston Globe, September 29th, 2000.

It's apropos that this documentary about the Canadian pop band Barenaked Ladies opens with comedian Jon Stewart riffing on the random collision of history and music. "Imagine if France had won," he muses. "There would be no Barenaked Ladies."

Glib humor is a huge part of BNL's massive appeal, second only to the band's endless supply of infectious hooks. The film, directed by "Beverly Hills 90210" alum and fellow Canadian Jason Priestley, aims to capture both with a well-balanced melange of performance footage, backstage and tour-bus antics, shots of singer-guitarist Ed Robertson on the toilet, and interviews with band members, fans, non-fans (an ingenious inclusion), and an assortment of celebrities.

Shot during two weeks on a 1998 tour to promote BNL's breakthrough album "Stunt," "Barenaked in America" won't be included alongside "The Last Waltz" or "Spinal Tap" in the annals of classic rockumentaries. It doesn't immortalize a transcendent performance (a term that may well be an oxymoron for an easygoing band like BNL) or offer a compelling window on the members' interior world. On the contrary, insights run more along the lines of which "Sesame Street" character each of them identifies with.

In deference to devotees, we'll leave that mystery intact. Suffice it to say Barenaked Ladies prove to be exactly the bright, funny, very nice guys they seem to be in song and on stage, which is, no doubt, the way their audience would want it. That's a good thing, because it's hard to imagine anyone other than BNL fans will be captivated by this good-natured slice of band life. Happily for the filmmakers there are legions of them out there, especially in Boston - dubbed "Barenaked Central" in the film - one of the cities where concert footage was shot.

News broadcasts describing the overflowing crowds at City Hall Plaza are included, as are now-familiar concert rituals: the tossing of Kraft macaroni and cheese, the raucous chanting of "pants off for a thousand bucks!," and the full-band parodies of unison dance moves. In one vintage bit, BNL hangs in front of the White House, asking tourists if they've heard of them. An early video of "Be My Yoko Ono" made at a public emporium called Speaker's Corner - with all the band members trying to cram their faces into the tiny frame - is one of many trips down memory lane.

On a more serious note, keyboardist Kevin Hearn's battle with leukemia is documented in detail during interview segments, and his poignant return to the stage after a stem-cell transplant marks one of the most gratifying musical moments in this sweet, if slight, chronicle.

Rating: 2½ stars (of 5).