Almost Almost Famous aims to do for tribute acts what 20 Feet From Stardom did for backup singers – bringing them out to center stage after years of standing in the shadows of other’s fame. Although when your entire career is dependent on the impersonation of an iconic celebrity, where does real life start?
Director Barry Lank’s debut feature is a pleasant concert doc that follows the “Class of ‘59”, an all-star tribute show comprised of some of the best individual acts in North America, on their cross-country tour, goofing around and squabbling in equal measure. They may not necessarily be famous under their own names, but these performers sure pull the crowds in, playing packed venues every night and making a living while pursuing the musical path that they’ve always dreamed of.
Three members of the Class of ’59 get the lion’s share of the spotlight here, all individually getting the chance to relate their upbringings and how they got into the business. Ted Torres is the ultimate Elvis impersonator in a world full of them, eternally in love with the King and the recipient of some of the industry’s top honours to prove it. Bobby Brooks found success after a tumultuous childhood and early failed marriage by emulating a wide variety of legendary black performers. He eventually settled on Jackie Wilson because it came the most naturally, leading to an intimacy with the artist that he never would have expected.
The most volatile of the subjects profiled here, however, is 31-year old Lance Lipinsky, an expert Jerry Lee Lewis tribute artist who’s been in the game since he was a teenager. Extremely talented but full of an ego that rivals even Jerry Lee’s, Lipinsky desperately wants to get out of the tribute game to focus on his own original music, putting all of his spare time and money into trying to get his rockabilly album off the ground. The frustrations he faces lead him to occasionally phone-in or intentionally sabotage his Class of ‘59 performances, much to the chagrin of the road manager, Marty Kramer, who stands fuming in the wings.
Notions of self-identity are probed, especially with Torres, who wonders what the future holds for him once he gets too old to convincingly portray Elvis anymore. Mostly though, this is a pretty lightweight affair, which can get frustrating when there are questionable ideas that come up and are never explored.
One member of the Class of ’59 states near the end of the film that the reason that their act continues to be so popular is that the music they perform is timeless, whereas “no one will be listening to Katy Perry in 50 years.” Besides the fact that this is a fairly ignorant and out-of-touch comment to make, it also doesn’t jibe with the fact that literally every audience member at these shows is a senior citizen. What happens when these people die? Where are all the young fans that are going to perpetuate this kind of musical impersonation? It seems more likely to me that tribute shows 50 years now will probably do pretty well with Katy Perry acts, as well as pulling from other contemporary pop music.
Does devoting your life to entertainment from the past also mean your values are more regressive? This is another point not touched upon, made more infuriating by the fact that Lipinsky actually sports a prominent Trump/Pence/Make America Great Again campaign button (presumably this was filmed during the lead-up to the 2016 election) throughout a good chunk of the film. This would have been one of the first things I’d have wanted to ask Lipinsky, especially since he comes off like a huge asshole anyway, but director Lank stays mum on the subject, even crafting a redemption ark for the guy for the film’s conclusion that frankly feels off-putting.
Ultimately, Almost Almost Famous is just meant to celebrate the art of the tribute act and in that respect, it comes off likeable enough. So if you’re over the age of 60 and could see yourself attending one of these shows already, eat your heart out. Anybody else will just have to wait 50 years for the sequel where performers bring back the live magic of Katy Perry, Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys to my ecstatic 80-year old self, singing along and dancing in the crowd.
- Release Date: 12/7/2018