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Review: Almost Almost Famous

December 7, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Being a tribute artist can be a lucrative and demanding business, even if your fame largely comes from pretending to be someone else. That’s the main takeaway of Almost Almost Famous, a fairly entertaining documentary that follows a group of classic rock impersonators who are on tour together as the Class of ’59, giving audiences the chance to see a show featuring the likes of Jackie Wilson Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and The Big Bopper.

The film mainly focuses on three of these tribute artists. There’s Jerry Lee Lewis impersonator Lance Lipinsky, a somewhat arrogant but phenomenally skilled Texas musician with incredible boogie woogie piano skills, who is also trying to make a name for himself outside of just being a tribute artist; award-winning Elvis impersonator Ted Torres Martin, whose laid back personality in real life gives way to a major stage presence when he’s in character; and Bobby Brooks, who does an incredible impersonation of Jackie Wilson, and we find out has surprising connections to the artist himself.

They are under the management of Marty Kramer, a seasoned veteran of the music industry who cut his teeth working as a roadie for bands like the Guess Who and Led Zeppelin, and is tasked with keeping both their schedules and egos in check. The performers deal with the usual challenges of life on the road, including the unglamorous realities of spending most of your time being holed up in tour buses, cheap motels and crappy dressing rooms, save for the few hours when on stage, and the loneliness that comes with it. But they are also navigating the unique hurdles that come from being sort of famous, but having most of your fame come from pretending to be other people who have long since died.

Director Barry Lank follows the group as they are on tour across Ontario, plunging us into this unique world of tribute artists through a good mix of concert footage and talking head interviews, and ensuring that the three main subjects are each given enough time to tell their own stories. The performances that we see here are top notch, with all of the men doing a fine job of channelling their rock star counterparts, and putting on one heck of a show that might not be quite as good as the real thing but is absolutely good enough for the people who keep coming to see them.

There is a real sense of joy to be found in watching the reactions of those who come to their shows, with the audiences mostly made up of seniors who are nostalgically reliving their own younger days through these impersonators. These fan interactions and the way they handle them tell us all we need to know about why these tribute artists keep doing what they do, and Almost Almost Famous serves as an enjoyable and even fun look at people who make their living impersonating others.

Almost Almost Famous is now playing in limited release at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto, and will be playing for two nights only at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on December 14th and 17th.

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