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Review: Dave Grohl documentary 'What Drives Us' spins its wheels

Loose doc finds Foo Fighters frontman looking back at his old touring days by talking to others about their old touring days

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

One of the first voices heard in "What Drives Us," Dave Grohl's documentary about bands getting their starts by hitting the road in vans, is Lars Ulrich's. The Metallica drummer matter-of-factly explains to Grohl that he never toured in a van. So, maybe not the best person to opine on the subject?  

But Lars is a massive rock star, just like Grohl. And "What Drives Us" is largely about the incredibly affable Grohl, who has become something of the keeper of the flame for rock and roll and rock and roll culture, shooting the breeze with other rock stars. Off-topic? Eh, does it really matter anyway?  

Dave Grohl in "What Drives Us."

That breeziness — or carelessness, depending on your perspective — sums up "What Drives Us." Grohl wants to talk to his peers about touring in vans, kind of, but he also wants to talk about inspiration, playing to live crowds, making it big and looking back fondly on the days when bandmates cramped into a small van and went town to town playing for crowds of 30 people or less. The good ol' days. 

We see Grohl re-acquire the actual van he first toured North America inside on the Foo Fighters' maiden voyage. Then we see him talk to a bunch of big-time rock stars — Flea, Steven Tyler, Ben Harper, St. Vincent, AC/DC's Brian Johnson, No Doubt's Tony Kanal, the Edge and Ringo Starr, to name a few — about their early touring days, and then chats up a pair of young bands currently getting their start. Does Grohl drive from interview to interview in his newly rescued van? Nah, that's a little high concept, and might have made too much sense.  

Instead, "What Drives Us" is loose and informal, and in the end there's not a whole lot to it. In "Sound City," Grohl buckled down and told the story of the famous Los Angeles recording studio of the same name; in the HBO series "Sonic Highways" he told the stories of eight American cities that inspired him musically. "What Drives Us" lacks the focus of either of those projects and comes off like a carefree nostalgia ploy, warm but amorphous. For Grohl, it's just a joy ride. 

'What Drives Us'


Not rated: language

Running time: 88 minutes

Available via the Coda Collection