In 1996 Tom Hanks made his writing and directing feature-length debut with the comedy That Thing You Do. The film was well-received by critics and a modest success at that time. That film, which I admit to being a personal favorite, follows the band The Wonders. Their titular song becomes a local hit, and then it makes a splash regional, yet try as they might, the group never entirely becomes nationally known. There is a funny ongoing gag about how none of the musicians can agree on anything, including the name of the band. The charm of the film lies in its witty script and perfect casting. Plus, the soundtrack, as you might have guessed, is terrific from start to finish.
However, this isn’t a review of a film that is 23 years old. This is a review of the music documentary Boom! A Film About The Sonics. It is the story of the somewhat obscure northwest based proto-punk band The Sonics. As a child writer-director Jordan Albertsen’s dad, whom he did not go along with very well back then, gave him the record The Sonics Boom. Albertsen fell in love, but information on the band was scarce. Decades later, Albertsen was in a position to track down and discover more about The Sonics.
“…the story of the somewhat obscure northwest based proto-punk band The Sonics.”
The Sonics formed in 1960 in the port town of Tacoma, Washington. For the next few years, there was a rotating slate of members; notably, the changing of the guard most frequently seemed to be the drummer and keyboardist. The Sonics most iconic line-up includes Larry Parypa as lead guitarist and backup vocals, Andy Parypa on the bass, Gerry Roslie was the lead singer, playing the saxophone and harmonica was Rob Lind, and Bob Bennett was the drummer. In 1964, the band lit up the local charts with their single ‘The Witch.’ It has the distinction of being the biggest selling local single of the Northwest area in history.
Their next single ‘Psycho’ was also well received in the greater Washington region, and the young bandmates soon found themselves touring. They also recorded two albums, but when they signed with Jerden Records, based out of Hollywood, fissures were already starting to tear the band apart. That Introducing The Sonics was a failure probably had something to do with that. By the bandmates own admissions these fights were nothing big or earth-shattering, just petty squabbling that got in the way of writing songs.
Therein lies the problem with Boom! A Film About The Sonics. Albertsen’s discovery of what happened to the band and what its members have been up to isn’t all that compelling. It is admirable that he wants to spotlight this band that was hugely influential to a whole genre of music, but that does not make for enthralling cinema. See, The Sonics story is that of the fictional Wonders or a handful of other real-life bands. There was no tragic death a la Brainiac’s disbanding too early, nor is there some inspiring arc of empowerment as detailed in The Mendenhall Experiment. The Sonics were young and simply broke up. Without the witty banter of a fictional screenplay, that is a really boring story.
“…the bandmates own admissions these fights were nothing big or earth-shattering…”
Maybe you’re thinking the emotional pull comes from Jordan Albertsen repairing his relationship with his father and their bonding over music. However, the documentary largely glosses over this particular angle. There is a passing mention of how they now meet up every year to attend a concert together, but the buildup to that is underwhelming. Where exactly then is the reason to care? What grand arc pulls the viewer from beginning to end? I cannot find one.
This lack of investment is made all the more frustrating because Boom! A Film About The Sonics is well made. It moves in and out of the eras, if you will, of The Sonics bright yet short life as a band seamlessly. Albertsen eventually discovers that the band is well-known in the United Kingdom. All of this new information comes across in a lively manner, and all the interviewees are enthusiastic and entertaining. It is just unfortunate that this technical know-how is squandered on a story with no stakes.
The Sonics were a good band that never reached greatness. In telling their story, Boom! A Film About The Sonics is strangely similar. It is competently made, and the band is treated with great respect, but there is not enough meat on its bones to make it worthwhile.
Boom! A Film About The Sonics (2019) Directed by Jordan Albertsen. Written by Jordan Albertsen. Starring Larry Parypa, Andy Parypa, Gerry Roslie, Rob Lind, Bob Bennett, Dusty Watson, Mike McCready, Krist Novoselic.
5 out of 10 Vinyl Records