American Harmony Review
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Not long ago, I spent an afternoon obsessively checking video game champ Steve Wiebe’s progress online as he tried to beat the world Donkey Kong record. Was it because I’m a hardcore gamer? Nope. Was it because I’m an incurable procrastinator? Possibly. Mostly, though, it’s because, a couple of years ago, I was introduced to Steve (and his rival, Billy Mitchell) in a brilliant little documentary called King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters—and I’ve been a fan ever since.

And that, my friends, is why I love documentaries. Yes, sometimes they’re dry and dull. But, other times, they’re both educational and wildly entertaining. Thanks to documentaries, I’ve learned about everything from air guitar championships to competitive eating—and I’ve enjoyed every entertaining minute. Now I can add another fascinating topic to the list: competitive barbershopping.

  
 
American Harmony follows a handful of barbershop quartets as they compete for the gold in the ultra-competitive International Championships of Barbershop Singing. There’s OC Times, the four young heartthrobs from California, who took home the bronze in 2005. In the year since, they’ve been touring the world and practicing with their coach to try to grab the gold. There’s Reveille, the fan favorites from New York, who continue to compete, despite one member’s ongoing battle with brain cancer. There’s Vocal Spectrum, the new kids who are quickly rising through the ranks. And, finally, there’s Max Q, the superstar quartet, composed of some of the greatest barbershoppers out there. In 2005, they came in second—and that’s not good enough.

As the quartets prepare for the 2006 Internationals in Indianapolis, viewers get to know a little bit about the world of competitive barbershop singing while, at the same time, getting to know the men who are competing—like Shawn from OC Times, who, when he’s not performing in front of thousands of screaming barbershop fans, manages a Chick-fil-A. Or Max Q’s Tony, the competition’s youngest gold medalist ever, who’s struggling to gain confidence as a lead singer. He’s easy-going and entertaining (and he looks—and acts—a bit like a young Chris Farley), but he’s also standing in the massive shadow of the group’s bass, Jeff, who’s got an ego the size of Texas.

The cast full of fascinating (and lovable) personalities make American Harmony such an enjoyable documentary. It won’t take long for you to pick a favorite group—and, like their enthusiastic groupies (yes, there are barbershop groupies), you’ll cheer them on through the rest of the movie. And even though the film is a low-budget indie, the occasional lapses in quality rarely interfere with the film’s entertainment value. Because, really, you don’t need big budgets or fancy effects when you’ve got real, live characters who are this much fun to watch.

Filled with harmony, comedy, and cut-throat competition, American Harmony is an amusing musical delight. The personalities are entertaining, the acts are impressive (especially when they include things like puppets, costumes, and stand-up comedy), and the toe-tapping, finger-snapping soundtrack couldn’t be better. There’s even a touch of suspense as the groups battle it out in the championship’s closest competition ever. So if this big-screen barbershop battle makes its way to a theater near you, don’t miss it.

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