Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny (review)

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And now I must extend my deepest apologies to Jack Black because after Nacho Libre — and his unexpectedly good turn in King Kong — I might have been expected to know better: that this actor/performance artist/professional dude has (*fingers crossed*) left behind his former job as paid punching bag in humiliation-comedy flicks like the execrable Shallow Hal and has moved on to far more conceptual stuff aimed at a wide audience, stuff like he’s always been doing under the radar. Like his project Tenacious D, which is simultaneously a rock band and a sendup of rock bands. Which has morphed in Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny, which is simultaneously a celebration of rock and a satire on rock fandom, a hilarious bastard child of This Is Spinal Tap and Wayne’s World, and one of the funniest movies I’ve seen this year.
This isn’t something I can say lightly, because I’ve railed more than once about fart jokes and boner jokes and other juvenile idiocies, and I’ve had to rail because 99 percent of attempts at humor that involve such juvenile idiocies appear to believe that things like farts and boners and so on alone are funny in and of themselves, which isn’t true unless you’re still in kindergarten. (And seriously, this isn’t a movie for the kids.) But Pick features two of the funniest boner jokes I’ve ever seen in a movie, which means the only funny boner jokes I’ve ever seen in a movie, and they work because they imbue the boner as a concept with a totally preposterous faux majesty… you know, like men do in general.

That’s the flick in a nutshell: It is a stoner phantasmagoria that takes the dreams we all recall from miserable adolescence of becoming a rock star, and that’ll show them all, and weaves around it a tapestry of completely good-natured silliness that is wonderfully phonily epic. “The D” are Jack Black and Kyle Gass, pretty much as themselves, two genial losers with stars in their eyes and only a smidge of talent at their disposal who determine nevertheless that they shall be gods of rock. (Like we all did as disaffected teens, didn’t we?) But they realize that they need a little supernatural help on this quest, which leads them to a plan to steal a satanically powered guitar pick from a rock museum. Things go badly from there.

Not that the plot matters. What matters is the clear, unspoken sweetness of these two goofballs, the absurdity of the juxtaposition of that undeniable sweetness with the supposed wickedness of rock music, and the knocking of power fantasies about living a rock-and-roll life that aren’t actually about power but about escape. It’s a gentle knocking, one that doesn’t intend to dismiss the fantasy but more to drape a kind arm around its shoulder and say, “There, there, honey, we understand your angst and your despair, and you go right on rocking on if it makes you feel better.” And it’s a knocking that’s easy to ignore in favor of, woo-hoo! rocking on, dude! if you so choose. In fact, it might be best not to let on to angry teenage boys of your acquaintance that there’s anything gentle or sweet or understanding in Pick, lest they hate you forever for totally ruining an otherwise awesome flick with that kind of girly crap.

But I’m not sure if Pick is really aimed at teens at all, or if it’s shot squarely at those of us still recovering from adolescence, whether we gave up on our wildest dreams of youth or are still chasing them as adults. Because it’s easy, once we’ve learned how unforgiving the real world is — there is no pick of destiny for any of us — and how naive our dreams seemed, to forget how important they were and how vital they felt. “We are the D!” Black screams by way of introduction with a conviction that is half ridiculous and half profound in its intensity. And it makes you want to shout back the seemingly necessary response: “And the D is within us all!” Or at least it should be.

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