They Might Be Giants occupies a special place in the hearts of geeks, spazzes, and nerds everywhere. To countless bookish types suffering through the Darwinian cruelty of adolescence, the band's music has been a life-affirming sign that they don't need to hide their brains or eccentricity to find their niches in the world. In a pop-music landscape obsessed with constantly shifting notions of coolness, They Might Be Giants proudly lets its geek flag fly. Short on dirt and long on insight into the band's career, A.J. Schnack's sprightly, engaging documentary Gigantic takes a leisurely stroll through TMBG's career, mixing energetic live performances with smartly chosen clips, a few quirky detours, and compelling interviews with the likes of Dave Eggers, Sarah Vowell, and Ira Glass. Too defiantly eccentric to fit into any scene, members John Flansburgh and John Linnell essentially established their own, creating a one-band movement devoted to insidiously catchy songs about science, history, and other subjects more associated with half-read textbooks than with rock 'n' roll. Through hard work and savvy self-promotion, the duo developed a rabid grassroots following, even becoming an unlikely MTV fixture at one point, but TMBG seemed destined to remain a cult act. After being released from its label, Flansburgh and Linnell tapped into the Internet as a means of getting their music to the masses, and have enjoyed a surge of recognition thanks to their characteristically catchy theme song for Malcolm In The Middle. Likely the only music documentary ever to open with an appearance by former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, Gigantic includes a few cutesy directorial flourishes, most notably segments in which TMBG's celebrity fans recite the band's lyrics. Those scenes succeed in illustrating the dark undertone to TMBG's seemingly peppy songs, but they otherwise reek of the kind of twee preciousness the rest of the film largely avoids. They Might Be Giants diehards would probably flock to Gigantic no matter what, but there's more than fanboyish devotion to this entertaining and surprisingly thoughtful look at a group that, in its own modest way, became a pop-culture institution.

Advertisement