I know as much about heavy metal music as I do quantum physics; hint, it’s not very much. That being said, I couldn’t help being pulled into Anvil! The Story of Anvil, a story that rightfully focuses on the pursuit of dreams rather than metal. Though a hugely influential and talented band, Anvil, whose members are referred to as Canadian demi-Gods, never hit it big. After disappearing from the major stage back in the early 1980s, they continued to drop from the mainstream, falling further and further into obscurity. It is the mid 2000s when the film begins; Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner are the remaining members of the original line-up. Both live in Toronto, and work ordinary jobs, and live ordinary lives. It is only at night and on weekends where they are able to take the stage and experience their music.
They are offered a tour in Europe, but nothing seems to go right. Then they record an album that no one seems to want to put out. Nothing seems to work out for these two best friends, but they are relentless in their pursuit. The filmmaking is sympathetic to their plight and instead of painting them as washed up has-beens, they are painted as men who just were not in the right place at the right time. Neither is perfect; both are neurotic and emotional. Lips is even aggressive, and his anger is not only thrown upon strangers who refuse to pay him, but Robb. Most of these moments are uncomfortable, for a man who is so often gentle and concerned with his family, he seems so volatile that one wonders if the film is not painting a full portrait of him.
Then again, their imperfections lend to how endearing both men are. Their meekness and kindness seem to be to their downfall; their career has been plagued by mismanagement and non-management. You see on their European tour, that their manager (who is also the fiancée then wife of another band member) has no idea what she is doing, and they put up with her. Even though Lips concedes that the tour was a failure, he cannot seem to blame her, even complimenting her heart and passion.
The film’s best moments revolve around family, and how conveniently Lips and Robb’s families compare and contrast. With Lips, there is more than just a suggestion that his family does not and never has approved of his choice to be an artist. Yet when his older sister lends him some money to produce his record, we remember how family can often overcome petty differences. It does not seem like a play for documentary drama, there is never a doubt that her act is out of pure generosity and love for her brother. It is honestly one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the year, and it’s somehow never cloying or over-sentimental.
This film could have easily veered in two directions, both of which would have been pandering. The film somehow succeeds to hit a middle road. Though quite obviously directed to elicit a very specific reaction to the people involved, it is still remote enough to allow for the audience to make their own judgments on the events and individuals. The film ends on an appropriate a moment, it seems to pattern perfectly Anvil’s first big break, invoking the same kind of adolescent awe, but with a new sense of opportunity and thanks. It is open ended, but there is such a sense of hope in the people themselves, that you cannot help thinking that whatever happens, these are people who will appreciate every good turn that comes their way.