'Almost Almost Famous': Film Review

levelFILM
Less oddball than its premise suggests.
1/25/2019

Barry Lank's documentary follows a touring troupe of musicians who pretend to be Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, et al.

It takes a certain kind of musician to accept that, though he might perform in a sold-out concert hall, what cheers arrive will never quite be for him — but for a long-dead rock star whose songs, hairstyle and mannerisms the singer has just borrowed for the night. Following an unlikely collection of such people — "The Class of 59," who channel the rockabilly era for senior citizens across Canada — Barry Lank's Almost Almost Famous finds fewer really colorful personalities than one would expect. Despite one delightful twist and some reasonably strong performance footage, the documentary suffers in comparison to others about living in the shadows of actual fame; even a self-consciously modest doc like The Standbys (about Broadway understudies) contains more drama.

The Class of 59 is a rotating-membership affair run by Marty Kramer, a veteran tour manager from Winnipeg who has worked in the biz for 54 years. Kramer is never worried about finding his next impersonator (the preferred nomenclature is "tribute artist," dude), and says that he has 10 contenders for any given role if and when he needs to replace somebody. (And if that somebody is Elvis Presley, there are 85 thousand would-be Kings in the wings worldwide.)

Kramer may need to break out his Rolodex when it comes to one of the three performers the doc spends most of its time with: Egotistical young pianist Lance Lipinsky, who performs the Jerry Lee Lewis songbook, grows increasingly annoying to bandmates and crew as the film progresses. (We never would have guessed, given that Trump-Pence campaign button on his lapel, that he'd be the group's self-centered squeaky wheel.) Genuinely fiery on the piano, Lipinsky doesn't sing much like the Killer and resembles him even less physically; he admits that he phones performances in on occasion, too distracted by his desire to step into the spotlight under his own name. (Granted, the retro-Americana material he's writing and recording on his own time owes everything to '50s/'60s entertainers.)

The group's Elvis, Ted Torres, comes off as the opposite, sincere about what he does and willing to do it until age makes it impossible. He's especially good at conjuring Presley's early years, and appears to rank fairly high in that 85K-strong contingent when Elvis channelers gather to be judged against one another.

Still, Torres isn't the ringer that Bobby Brooks is. A former sailor in the Navy, Brooks was having fun at a Hawaii karaoke bar when he was noticed by Peter Hernandez Sr., who ran a doo-wop revival group called the Love Notes; Hernandez hired Brooks to impersonate early rock singers, sometimes appearing onstage with Hernandez's son, a 7-year-old Elvis impersonator later to be known as Bruno Mars.

Today, Brooks specializes in Jackie Wilson, and looking at him in the role, it's a wonder he ever sang as anyone else. He looks and moves shockingly like the singer of "Lonely Teardrops," and has a voice to match. Any viewer who finds himself tiring of this doc's more mundane scenes — complaints about the demands of the road; meet-and-greets with grateful fans — should stick it out until Brooks is done telling his tale.

Distributor: levelFILM
Director: Barry Lank
Producers: Merit Jensen-Carr, Luanne Lank
Composer: Shawn Pierce

83 minutes