I first heard They Might Be Giants on the Dr. Demento radio show in about 1990, right around the time of the duo’s seminal “Flood” album. Delighted by their catchy pop sound and offbeat lyrics, I sought out a TMBG album at the local alternative record store (which still sold records in those days and probably still does, which should give you an idea how alternative it is). I was hooked. I have been a fan ever since.
The preceding paragraph is an accurate reflection of my TMBG experience, and you will notice it is not particularly intriguing or noteworthy. Yet “Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns),” the documentary about the Brooklyn-based duo of John Linnell and John Flansburgh, is full of that sort of testimonial. Most of them are from people more significant than me, of course — record execs, music writers, and so forth — but a gushing commendation of a band is pretty much the same no matter who’s doing the gushing.
As a result, “Gigantic” is a tragic underserving of a band whose accomplishments and notoriety warrant better treatment. TMBG was one of the very first non-mainstream bands to get videos in rotation on MTV; their Internet-only album “Long Tall Weekend” was the best-selling download of 1999; their Dial-a-Song service — where you call and hear a song, for free, played on their answering machine — is one of the coolest, true-spirit-of-rock gimmicks ever; and on top of all that, their cryptic, poetic lyrics and ever-hummable melodies are a delight to behold.
But there I go gushing again. I’m just trying to make the point that, whether you’re a fan or not, TMBG could be the basis of an interesting documentary if the right approach were taken. The raw materials are there.
“Gigantic,” though, directed by AJ Schnack, is content to give a glossy overview of their rise to fame and ignore everything else. Both Johns, their bandmates and other intimates are interviewed extensively, but no revelations are made. Both Johns wear wedding rings, and Linnell is seen briefly with his young son, but there is no mention of marriages, wives or other family. We learn their basic personalities — Flansburgh is gregarious; Linnell is introverted — but not what truly makes them, or the band, tick.
I’m delighted to know TMBG has survived more than 20 years without in-fighting, scandal or other behind-the-scenes drama. But if that’s the case — if the band’s story really has no story — then maybe telling the story of the band isn’t the best route to take.
This should have been sent out as a video to fan club members, not exhibited in movie theaters. It doesn’t tell the faithful anything they didn’t already know, and it does nothing to convert the non-believers. I’m a TMBG fan, and I was bored.
C (1 hr., 43 min.; )