This Isn’t Spinal Tap

The Best Band Movies, Like Finland’s ‘Heavy Trip’, Throw Reality Out the Van Window

I haven’t seen a blip on social media about the Finnish film Heavy Trip being on Amazon Prime. That’s a shame. There’s clearly an audience for a comedy about a band, especially one called Impaled Rektum. Musicians especially should see it because it captures the ridiculousness of band life. If you’ve ever toured with a band, you know what I’m talking about.

For those who haven’t had that life-altering experience, here’s a little sample:

I went on my first tour during the summer of 1997, when I was 16. That year, my shitty punk band the Ninja Boners released our cassette, “Songs For Your Butt,” and we were convinced more people wanted to hear it. We were all in high school and thought,  “if Green Day can make it, so can the Ninja Boners.”

Our tour really wasn’t much–six shows spread across ten days–and it was fun. But I still ended up traumatized. I had terrible insomnia, so I was wide awake when the singer had sex with my ex-girlfriend (twice). After our show in Tacoma, the guitarist beat me up for taking too many Top Ramen noodles. And then there was the moment that I, having mixed copious amounts of LSD and Ding Dongs, dropped trou and sprayed diarrhea into a ditch in front of an elderly couple.

Now you might be thinking, “Wow Kevin, that sounds like you have a movie script there.” But you’d be wrong. I still hold grudges–the bassist stole the noodles–so I’d feel the need to “correct the record.” Nobody wants that. Also, band movies that try to be real just aren’t funny. Four guys/girls starting a band and going on tour is a great start, but there’s nothing funny about what real bands do. A lot of band life is sitting around, bored, waiting to play. The tedium might be accurate, but it’s terrible to watch.

The really good band movies, like 2018’s Heavy Trip, focus on the journey, not realism. Heavy Trip is second only to The Blues Brothers in its lack of believability. It starts out like normal band flick: four childhood friends living in a tiny village in Finland start a metal band and drive to Norway to play a music festival. Yet along the way they foil a fake terrorist plot and a fall from a skyscraper-high cliff. Their singer breaks into a zoo to fist-fight a wolverine. The story arc stretches to Valhalla, and it all works.

Heavy Trip

Obviously Heavy Trip is not The Iliad. Maybe the Kill-iad? It’s certainly something, though, and definitely as stupid as the joke I just made. Some scenes act as clear set-ups for comedy: “Uh oh, where’s he going with that barrel of reindeer blood?” Other bits ramp up to preposterous levels, like the singer’s habit of puking before he sings. It’s not just a little throw up before hitting the stage. He always disgorges a fire-hose blast of sick right before he’s supposed to sing. It covers just one unlucky audience member. In one scene, it’s the town’s mayor.

The only believable parts of the movie are all band-related, and that’s because the group is like an inside joke for musicians. The drummer is happy-go-lucky and seriously impulsive. The most talented musician in the group, the blindingly-fast guitarist, also happens to be idiotic in every other aspect of his life. My favorite bit is when the band writes the ultimate metal song, using, as a muse, the noise of an industrial grinder struggling to rip apart the ass of a reindeer. It’s all very cartoonish, but those who’ve spent time in bands will see the truths being referenced.

The film doesn’t work when it tries to be Hollywood. There’s a b-story about Turo the singer courting a cute girl at a local flower shop, and it’s just irritating. No way he has problems getting girls. He fronts a band and has the cheekbones of a cover model.  Turo competes for her affection with a sleazeball car salesman/lounge singer who drives a van sporting a giant picture of his face. That idea  couldn’t be harder to swallow.

Heavy Trip isn’t perfect, but  should be placed up there with the greats, like This Is Spinal Tap and the Blues Brothers. It succeeds where kinda-realistic band comedies like Still Crazy and The Rocker fail because it’s trying to be funny, first and foremost. Being in a band has its funny moments, as proven by all the tales of excess in the hundreds of rock docs. But it’s pure fantasy to expect a realistic movie about a band to be all killer and no filler.

 

Kevin L. Jones

Kevin L. Jones is a freelance writer and audio producer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can see more of his work at kevinljones.com.

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