Film Reviews

Review: ‘Almost Almost Famous’

Enjoy the world of tribute bands and missed opportunities


Almost Almost Famous
(Canada/USA, 84 min.)
Dir. Barry Lank

Nowadays everyone wants to be famous—and it’s possible to achieve stardom in an instant. With social media spin and “influence,” one can easily skyrocket to the spotlight without doing anything extraordinary. This isn’t anything new, mind you, but it’s gotten way, way, way out of control in the age of selfies, Instagram, and viral videos.

The question of why someone wants to be famous without being particularly interesting, insightful, creative, or original remains endlessly fascinating. The documentary Almost Almost Famous looks at the fringes of fame and fandom by probing the world of celebrity impersonators. These are the hordes of performers who moonlight as Elvis or Buddy Holly and make audiences swoon through a heavy mix of cover songs, hair gel, and nostalgia.

Almost Almost Famous follows three rock star impersonators as they tour the beer halls, concert rooms, and convention centres of B-list locales. Director Barry Lank hits the road with the cross country tour of the “Class of ’59,” which features Lance Lipinsky as Jerry Lee Lewis, Bobby Brooks as Jackie Wilson, and Ted Torres as Elvis Presley. Both the doc and the routine are familiar schticks with the on the road/behind the scenes formula providing good(ish) music and backstage drama while the impersonators highlight the pecularities of the “tribute world” and display genuine talent that delivers on their hunger for nostalgia and fame.

While Almost Almost Famous provides as an amusing diversion, it’s frustrating to see the missed opportunities to expand upon the formula. The film arguably suffers by treading closely to the reliable elements of the road movie and by giving time to too many characters when some of their stories add little to the mythology of stardom and celebrity. For example, one of the three subjects (we won’t say which one to avoid spoilers) tells Lank that he pursued the tribute routine as a way of “keeping the music alive” of one of his favourite artists. He explains how people always noted his physical resemble to his real-life counterpart and how the rock star’s family thought he could be the man’s son. The subject explains how a DNA test revealed this observation to be true and, in a coincidence that is almost too wild to believe, he carries on his father’s legacy one tune at a time. This story could fuel an entire documentary, but it appears only anecdotally – just a few minutes of screen time – in Almost Almost Famous.

Similarly, there are some great moments on the road, particularly in the conflicts between Lipinsky and the band’s tour manager, Marty Kramer (arguably the most interesting character in the film), who doesn’t have patience for a Z-list star’s diva antics. “He’s not worth the effort,” Kramer says in one of the film’s better moments, adding that their Jerry Lee Lewis should be “dropped like a hot potato and crushed.”

These guys aren’t really worth the effort, but they could have been. There’s an opportunity for Almost Almost Famous to be the 20 Feet from Stardom of tribute band movies if Lank probed deeper into the psychology that inspires someone to imitate another person’s success instead of forging his or her own path. The film provides an audience with a good time without necessarily aiming for those higher notes, just as tribute bands almost inevitably remind audiences of something better than came before.

Almost Almost Famous opens in Toronto at the Carlton on Dec. 7.