Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 23, 2007)
For most of us, air guitar playing acts as a guilty pleasure we indulge in behind closed doors. Not content to keep their talents hidden, however, some folks try to take their fake rock hero skills to another level. We encounter some of these sorts in a documentary called Air Guitar Nation.
In this flick, we start at the New York regional “1st Annual US Air Guitar Championships” in 2003. We meet US Air Guitar founders Cedric Devitt and Kriston Rucker, air guitar competitors Andrew Buckles, Zac Munro, Ryan Kelly Jr., Lance Kasten, Dan Crane, David Jung, Angela Shelton, Gordon Hintz, “Airtight Messiah”, Lesa Barnes, Sara Szewyck, Anand Motwani, Ryan Flynn, Ian Stafford, “Roxy McStagger”, “Funky Jordi”, “Mike the Judge”, “Air Alm”, Andre Ulricksen, “Stan Kreich”, and “McInroe”, Jung’s father and his fiancée Kim Shapiro, Crane’s “nana” Janice Lubbin and his mother Nancy Conrad, singer/songwriter Nina Gordon, guitarist Tom Morello, World Air Guitar Championships founders Tapani Launonen and Jukka Takalo, and judge Angela McKay.
The movie follows the development of the US Air Guitar competition and how it fits into the worldwide scene. We see parts of that NYC contest and then tracks the players as they move to the LA competition. Jung goes as the rightful winner, but Crane thinks he deserves the title and heads to LA anyway to try to win the West Coast title. After that we go with Jung to Finland for the world competition. Crybaby Crane goes out there as well, and we follow the results.
Though it occasionally becomes compelling, Nation is too much of a mess to become a genuinely enjoyable program. On the positive side, the film’s natural arc as it leads us through the competitions works well. Things could’ve meandered more than they do, but at least we go down a logical path. That makes things more interesting since we know we’re headed somewhere.
But boy, does Nation ramble as it takes that trail. At times it looks like it’ll try to tell a decent narrative, especially as it focuses on Jung and Crane. Unfortunately, after pieces that actually give us some depth about those guys and the whole air guitar phenomenon, the story goes off the rails.
It’s when we hit Finland that matters go downhill. The bits at the “boot camp” are beyond stupid and a total waste of space. It’s never clear if these segments are actually part of the air guitar championships or if they’re staged for the film, but either way, they’re moronic.
Those pieces annoy so much because they relate to the fatal flaw found in this film: the insane level of hipster smugness. Of course, much of this is inevitable in a film about something as goofy as air guitar competitions, but we hear so many ironic comments from the participants that you just want to slap them. The movie works better when we get sincere interviews – the kind that come early from Crane and Jung – or when we just focus on the performances.
That side of things may disappoint viewers, as we don’t see all that many shots of air guitarists in action. We do find more of these as the flick continues, and I can’t fault that structure to a degree. It makes sense to ramp up the number of live shots as the movie goes so we don’t get bored before the big ending.
Nonetheless, we still don’t see all that many performance bits even during the world finals, so this side of things remains unsatisfying. Though perhaps I shouldn’t complain, as I’m not sure how much of these air guitarists I want to see. We get way too many shirtless guys who should never go shirtless – and in the world finals, we even briefly observe the horrifying sight of one freak who plays completely naked. Anticipate weeks of nightmares after you view that guy.
I like the concept of Nation, as a documentary about the odd world of air guitar competitions seems ripe for exploration. Unfortunately, I’m not wild about the flick as executed. It’s too scattershot and unfocused. I’d have liked for it to either be more in-depth about particular participants or to at least dig into the live footage in a more dynamic way. As it stands, the movie meanders for 81 minutes and never really connects.