It's hard to imagine a film that's taken a more circuitous route to awards season, or a public screening, than the Canadian heavy-metal documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil.
Premiering with high expectations at Sundance nearly two years ago, Sacha Gervasi's surprisingly poignant look at an underachieving group of middle-aged, big-haired rockers fell flat with distributors (who were spooked by the faltering of several documentaries the year before) and emerged from the festival with nothing but a couple new fans and a few good press notices.
That would have been that -- as it is for ninety percent of movies that go into Sundance without distribution -- but the filmmakers exhibited a tenacity that mirrored their subjects. They took their show on the road, playing film festivals large and small (but mostly small) from the Czech Republic to New Zealand, a carpetbombing approach that banked on a little goodwill and the odd Anvil fan in a far-flung place to drum up even the slightest bit of noise.
But a funny thing happened. In a meta-plotline eerily similar to that in the movie -- which focuses on the 35-year friendship and musical collaboration between Anvil's hard-luck frontmen Lips Kudlow and Robb Reiner -- the blood and sweat paid off.
The film tracks Anvil which, if you haven't been plugged into the Canadian metal scene, is a band that, after a few top-selling and influential metal albums in the early '80's, was playing for as few as a couple dozen fans in obscure pub basements (and whose lead singer spent the last two decades working catering and other odd jobs).
But the picture started gathering fans with varying levels of influence and musical interest, from VH1 executives (who picked it up for airing on their network) to the music-minded director Cameron Crowe. In the past few months, the band has been back on the map, setting stadium dates with the likes of AC/DC and booking spots on venues like the Tonight Show, where Anvil appeared last week.
And now, much like the band itself, Gervasi's picture finds itself, against all possible odds, with a shot at awards.
Certainly the picture has a strong shot in the documentary category (where it could compete with another populist/everyman picture in Capitalism: A Love Story). But the people behind Anvil are also gunning for a bigger prize, with producer Rebecca Yeldham revealing that she and her fellow filmmakers are aiming for a run at best picture.
They may be on to something. The film has a curious resonance: A feelgood quality that speaks to universal qualities like the need for friendship and never-give-up-on-the-dream perseverance.
Kudlow and Reiner have managed to keep their music and friendship going (with just a few rough spots) for thirty-five years, not because the band is particularly good but because the dream is particularly resilient (and, frankly, because they sometimes overestimate their own talents, though this somehow only makes you root for them more).
Anvil in this way has less in common with Spinal Tap, a movie to which some have compared it, and more with the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster, only without that band's success.
The awards play for Anvil will be to highlight both the underdog story featured in the movie and the unlikely comeback tale of the picture itself. If rock 'n' roll dreams really do come true, look for some Canadian hair-metallers to rock out at the Oscars next year.