I’ve loved this film since I first saw it years ago, although for reasons I doubt the filmmakers intended – I find it tremendously funny. It reminds me of my favourite comedy film, This is Spinal Tap, in how much it mines the juxtaposition between the ultra-cool, masculine, glorified rock-star mythos, with the bizarre, mundane, and emotionally charged realities of these men’s lives.
I do genuinely love a lot of Metallica’s music (the third album I ever bought was Ride the Lightning, I earnestly love Load and Reload, I think The Black Album is a triumph of the genre, and so on), but the widely-held opinion is that the album this film chronicles the making of, St. Anger, is awful, and I’d agree with that. It’s a clunky, extremely dated mess full of overlong songs that never develop past ideas offered in their first minutes, painfully stuck to the awkward era of nu-metal (Kirk Hammet, in one of the rare prescient moments of the film, points out that eschewing guitar solos to emulate such musical trends would irrevocably date the album).
Seeing the band spend a ridiculous amount of time and resources on what’s easily their worst album is plenty funny in itself, but it’s the littler moments that really make the film work so well as an unintentional comedy. The surprising weepiness of the rock-stars that present themselves as uber-masculine. The platitudes about living simply delivered while on properties worth millions of dollars (hilariously, this happens twice in the film, with entirely different people). The psychiatrist in the increasingly ugly sweaters offering increasingly offbeat advice. The sole straight man in the film is producer Bob Rock, whose expertise is sadly neglected for much of the runtime. Even Kirk Hammet, far calmer and more put-together than his bandmates (at least until the introduction of new bassist Rob Trujillo late in the runtime), gets such bizarre moments as writing the lyric “my lifestyle determines my deathstyle” and being summarily praised.
The film never bores; every ten-minute stretch will have at least one moment I find humorous. Apart from the unintentional comedy, most of the people in the film are interesting enough to remain compelling for the runtime (ex-bassist Jason Newsted’s story and effect on the band being the most propulsive and interesting throughline of the film), and it is interesting to see the musical process of the band, even if the actual music of the album is largely unpleasant.
I return to this film all the time, and it entertains me greatly every time. I give it three and a half riffs, and a new bassist.