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Bare Play

By Nicole Arthur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 29, 2000


    'Barenaked In America' Jim Creeggan, Ed Robertson and Steven Page star in, and Jason Priestley directs, Shooting Gallery's "Barenaked in America." (AP Photo/Shooting Gallery, Danny Nowak)
"They seem like guys who would work at the Gap."

So says one Barenaked Ladies fan in "Barenaked in America," a documentary about the Canadian pop quintet's 1998 U.S. tour. He's right. The band members are pleasantly unpretentious, seem genuinely nice and, of course, have a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, which won't surprise anyone who's heard the group's ubiquitous radio hit, "One Week." In fact, they seem like guys who would work at the Gap.

Directed by Jason Priestley (yes, that Jason Priestley), "Barenaked in America" chronicles the band's entree to the heady world of arena rock. (Priestley has a prior association with the group: The actor, a fellow Canadian, directed the video for their song "The Old Apartment.") At its worst, the film is the cinematic equivalent of a fanzine, with Priestley asking each member in turn questions like, "Who's your favorite 'Sesame Street' character?"

Though the film is sure to interest the band's fans, its scope isn't broad enough to draw in the uninitiated. It more often zeroes in on tour bus cinema beerité than the group's not inconsiderable talents, such as the dizzying improvised patter of dual singer-guitarists Ed Robertson and Steven Page that typically opens the band's shows. "I have the loudest instrument, so I try to end it," says drummer Tyler Stewart. "Sometimes it's too early, sometimes it's way too late."

The movie suffers from a surfeit of what the press kit calls "amusing backstage antics," which, in aggregate, can have the numbing effect of someone else's home movies. Priestley also grapples with the inherent disadvantage of the contemporary rock documentarian – working in the post-"Spinal Tap" era. For example, he can't resist interspersing phony interviews into the mix (to wit: former Conan O'Brien sidekick Andy Richter grousing because the band "unseated Loverboy as Canada's premier rock act"). This works fine until a few interviews come along where we're just not sure.

It's easy for road movies of this sort to resemble Bon Jovi's maudlin, self-aggrandizing "Wanted Dead or Alive" video. But Bare naked Ladies are too likable for that; indeed, the sheer ordinariness of the band – which includes, in addition to Robertson, Page and Stewart, keyboardist Kevin Hearn and bassist Jim Creeggan – is its most appealing aspect. Not surprisingly, the film captures several candid moments that deflate the mythos of touring. They have, for instance, "a sacred pact never to write a road song." In one sequence, they stand in a stadium hallway marveling at how badly teenage girls want to get backstage.

"Do they think there's rides back here or something?" asks Robertson incredulously. "Backstage sucks!"

Barenaked In America (Unrated, 90 minutes) – Contains topless fans and footage of at least one band member on the toilet.


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