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Way back in the 80s, two good friends from the quaint Boston suburb of
Lincoln, Massachusetts joined musical forces, and They Might Be Giants
was born. Laying a sonic foundation based on an unlikely blend of
accordion and nasal harmonies, John Linnell and John Flansburgh began
crafting some of the most strangely lovely pop-rock songs that would
ever be played on college radio, and playing bizarre live shows that
might easily have been described as performance art -- except that they
were actually fun. Whether ruminating on how Constantinople became
Istanbul, waxing poetic about a nightlight, or musing on a mysterious
cowtown beneath the sea, They Might Be Giants celebrated geekdom way
before dotcommers made it hip, simply by virtue of being their own
oddball selves. Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns) offers a closer look at
the music, the fans, and the two guys behind it all.
There was a time in my life -- between the ages of fifteen and twenty or
so -- when TMBG was easily one of my favorite bands in the world. Flood
was the first CD I ever bought for my boy; I skipped my first day of
freshman week revelries at college to see a free They Might Be Giants
show at Boston's Hatch Shell. So it's maybe a little weird that until a
friend of mine was kind enough to loan me a copy of Gigantic, I
hadn't listened to a TMBG tune in many, many years. Five minutes into
the movie, I couldn't remember why I ever stopped listening. The songs
-- from "mainstream" hits like "Don't Let's Start"
and "Ana Ng" to lesser-known tunes like "She's an
Angel," a song so achingly, perfectly, happy-sad pretty that my
very stoic Yankee boy used to say it made him want to cry -- are as
catchy, intriguing and fresh as ever, and watching Gigantic was a
bit like discovering the wonderfully off-center universe of TMBG all
over again. The two Johns come across as smart, funny, self-effacing,
and very down-to-earth, and while the film is an unabashedly
wholehearted love letter to TMBG, it generally knows enough not to take
itself too seriously. There are some funny little bits featuring famous
folk like Janeane Garofolo, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Andy
Richter performing deadpan "poetry" readings of various TMBG
lyrics; like TMBG themselves, the segments are sort of dumb, sort of
brilliant, and rather amusing. I'm not sure whether a non-fan would get
a whole lot out of this documentary, but for anyone who ever obsessed
over the band's music, it's a fun and inspiring look at two guys who
genuinely seem to have found career success and longevity making exactly
the kind of deeply quirky music they want.—reviewed
by Yee-Fan Sun
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