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Movie Review

It Might Get Loud

A whole lotta love between them: Film offers front-row seat to meeting of guitar heroes

ERIC LEE/SONY PICTURES CLASSICSFrom left: Jack White, Jimmy Page, and the Edge jamming in Davis Guggenheim’s documentary “It Might Get Loud.’’ ERIC LEE/SONY PICTURES CLASSICSFrom left: Jack White, Jimmy Page, and the Edge jamming in Davis Guggenheim’s documentary “It Might Get Loud.’’ (Eric Lee/Sony Pictures Classics)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / August 28, 2009

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In “It Might Get Loud,’’ Jimmy Page, the Edge, and Jack White sit on a loosely decorated set and talk to each other about playing the guitar. As documentary, it’s low concept. But it’s never dull. They spin records they like for one another. They play each other’s music. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were footage somewhere of them braiding each other’s hair.

To flesh out this “summit,’’ as the movie calls it, director Davis Guggenheim follows each man around his home(s), on tour, and wherever else he might go. The Edge visits the grade school where U2 first started playing. This is the same structure Guggenheim used to jazz up the epic, Oscar-winning Power Point lecture otherwise known as “An Inconvenient Truth.’’ That movie’s scenes of Al Gore riding in limousines and hanging with his wife, Tipper - while, off camera, he ruminated about various emotional subjects - were the least effective passages. But their function, as all-access padding, is the same in both films.

“It Might Get Loud’’ roves from one man to another and back to the summit. Everything in it is interesting. Bits of it are sublime. The Edge has thrown open the U2 vault, and now we can see a clip of the group on a talk show that suggests that before Bono was Bono, he was Mick Jagger. There’s great archival footage of a young Page before Led Zeppelin, and White seems unusually humbled and human despite his continuing to dress like the saloon entertainment on “Bonanza.’’

White’s love for the blues feels as deep as it does in the White Stripes’ music, and the upside of the movie’s randomness is the chance to hear the music of bluesmen Blind Gary Davis and Son House. It’s endearing to hear White articulate his band’s gimmick of wearing only white and red clothes: They did it to distract from the other gimmick of white kids playing black music. He’s said as much previously, but for some reason, his shrewdness resonates here.

Guggenheim makes the most of all he has access to, which appears to be everything. That he managed to produce only a 97-minute movie is a kind of achievement. But it isn’t assembled well. Once I figured out that the movie has nowhere to go with this trio - they don’t write a song together or overthrow a dictator - I started to lose interest. Guggenheim is simply pleased to have them in front of his cameras, and by extension, so should we.

The movie oozes with both privilege and unmitigated fandom. The latter is certainly no crime. But the former traps the movie in complacency. Getting these men together is the achievement, and look: Guggenheim did it. We watch a large crew striking the first set and moving the guitarists to a different one for their last song together. All the shots of people scrambling around call to mind what they ought to: a film shoot. But there’s sense of earnest urgency, too, as if this summit had actually been called by the United Nations.

This is not a history of rock ’n’ roll guitar. It’s a movie-fantasy version of the “favorite music’’ section on Guggenheim’s Facebook page. Still, two things keep it from being insufferable. The first is that the music we hear is still in your head days later. Watching these three play it with each other should shame us all into laying off the Guitar Hero for a while.

The second is that the three men are genuinely likable (the Edge, particularly), and they appear to like each other. When Page fires up “Whole Lotta Love,’’ the other two crack an awed smile and hesitate before joining in. Hearing the sex in that song’s iconic riff takes them back somewhere. If only Guggenheim had asked where.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/ae/movienation.

IT MIGHT GET LOUD Directed by: Davis Guggenheim

With: Jimmy Page, the Edge, and Jack White

At: Kendall Square and Embassy

Running time: 97 minutes

Rated: PG (mild thematic elements, brief language, and smoking)

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