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GIGANTIC (A TALE OF TWO JOHNS)

If you knew They Might Be Giants only from this documentary, you might think they were some kind of intellectual comedy band — which, let’s face it, they pretty much are. A.J. Schnack’s valentine tries hard to present one-time Lincoln classmates John Linnell and John Flansburgh as pop visionaries: there are testimonials by everyone from ex-labelmate Frank Black to journalist Michael Azerrad (who overstates the case by calling "Birdhouse in Your Soul" a "towering achievement") to their number-one fan, the ever-nasal Sarah Vowell (of NPR’s This American Life). But the concert clips (a quarter of the film at most) are too shtick-ridden to justify the high praise, showing off the goofy side that’s become more pronounced in the second decade of the band’s career. Neither do the long interviews reveal much of interest about the two Johns; they come across as ordinary guys with a strong work ethic.

Then there’s Syd Straw, who steals the movie with about two minutes of screen time. The former Golden Palominos singer toured with the Giants in the early ’90s, and her interview snippets show what being endearingly quirky is all about. Trying to prompt a question about the Johns’ sex lives, she puts on dark sunglasses for a vampy look, then realizes she’s doing a Joey Ramone imitation. Told that everyone’s pegged the Giants as nice guys, she deadpans, "So is this a total puff piece?" The answer’s yes, but it’s time Straw got one of her own. (90 minutes)

BY BRETT MILANO

Issue Date: August 1 - 8, 2002
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