Rock of Ages

I just came back from a preview screening of Rock of Ages. If you’re thinking of going to see it, maybe I can sway you one way or the other.

Is it good? Yes, it’s good. But it’s a musical; aren’t musicals bad? Not this one. This one’s a celebration of rock and roll. You know what you’re getting from the first scene, when a bus full of people join the female lead Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) in singing the first song. Sherrie is the prototypical small-town girl heading to Los Angeles to try and get her big break. When she’s robbed as soon as she gets off the bus in LA, Sherrie meets the male lead Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), who gets her a job as a waitress at the Bourbon Room. The boss at the Bourbon, Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) knows exactly what Sherrie’s motivation is, counting off her life story and hitting every note on the way, but lets her work anyway.

Our first antagonist is Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the scheming wife of LA’s new mayor. She carries on a self-righteous crusade against rock and roll culture even as she leads a group of church wives in song-and-dance numbers. But every time she sees or mentions Stacee Jaxx, you can see a wave of repressed emotion push against her tightly-maintained facade of moral crusader.

And then there’s Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), lead singer of Arsenal. Jaxx is the embodiment of rock and roll excess turned up to eleven. When we first see him, he’s extricating himself from a pile of half-dressed groupies. He operates on an entirely different level of reality than everyone else. His lines make no sense and he introduces himself to Sherrie by grabbing her breast and telling her “You have a very perky… heart.” But the jerk’s heart of gold opens after an interview with Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (Malin Akerman).

The other antagonist is Stacee’s manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti). He only cares about money, as befits his role as the heartless corporate suit who sells souls for record deals. Gill’s world is the numbers, focus groups, and returns on investment. He doesn’t care about the music, just the money.

I’d best not forget to mention Russel Brand’s Lonny. Lonny is the comic foil to Dennis’s straight man. He’s animated, overly verbose, and strongly opposed to Whitmore’s attempt to disrupt the Bourbon Room’s business. He steals the scene whenever he’s on screen.

The movie follows the standard “boy meets/loses/regains girl” formula. That’s nothing new. They go through the motions of the plot with a lot of spontaneous crowd songs, lack of communication threatens their relationship, but they come back together after trying to fill their emptiness with attention from other people. The performances are solid and the film doesn’t take itself seriously for one moment.

The soundtrack is the big draw. It has tons of rock and roll anthems: “Long Live Rock and Roll,” “Paradise City,” “Sister Christian,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” and “Don’t Stop Believin'” are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. If the actors are actually singing, they’re doing a bang-up job; I couldn’t find any tells of lip-synch.

So, yeah, go see it.

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