Air Guitar Nation plays less like a feature-length documentary than it does a poorly thrown together behind-the-scenes supplement to the real thing—something that is most unfortunate considering how much unused potential this topic still contains after all is said and done. It’s subjects include a handful of devotees to the world of the air guitar, members of an unofficial, worldwide mini-cult who seek to elevate what many consider nothing more than a throwaway physical gag into a full-fledged performance art. That the film brings to mind a DVD special feature suggests it was constructed with the previously converted already in mind, merely skimming over the initiation rites needed to truly appreciate this truly unique pastime; for as much as its interviewees talk about the distinctness of the art form and stress that “to err is human, but to air guitar is divine,” the film’s semi-formal distance from these performers only succeeds at negating most of their vibrancy.
Over the course of its dramatic arc, the film tracks the ambitions of several air guitarists and the pangs they go through to compete at both national and international levels, saving up hundreds and thousands of dollars in order to travel to the World Championship Competition in Finland, where they will be able to sport their skills in front of a crowd of thousands for a mere 60 seconds in hopes of continuing on to the next round. Frustratingly scattershot, Air Guitar Nation barely allows us to bear witness to the spectacle of this sport/ritual/performance style before the long-awaited final competition, instead doling it out in five and 10-second clips that inadvertently stress the externalized silliness of the practice—there’s very little physical poetry in the image of a sweaty man jumping around in slow motion, his waggling tongue dripping what one can only hope to be fake blood.
Like a second-tier VH1 production (it’s no surprise that the music channel is listed as the film’s prime television distributor), the film feels content wandering from one talking head to the next, rather than genuinely immersing itself in the emotional and communal currents at hand. Likewise, the filmmakers unwisely attempt to bolster their chosen subject matter’s importance by superficial means, suggesting it to be a far more widespread and permeating phenomenon than it truly is instead of emphasizing its more distinctive elements. Why do some people find so much meaning in the act of faux rocking-out to somebody else’s music? It’s a question the film leaves the viewer hungering for, and while it may fail in making one jump out of their seat jamming to Motorhead, it tempts the imagination with what a more inquisitive filmmaker could have done with the same material.