There are those that go all week waiting for those few hours on Saturday night when the ‘80s rewind shows up on the radio. For those people, “Rock of Ages” couldn’t come soon enough. For the rest of us, well, if it never came that would be all right too.
I’ve never seen the Broadway play, but I understand that it was quite popular and beloved. It’s hard to tell if the film follows the same model, but it’s not hard to tell that the film offers little or nothing to resonate with for the audience.
“Rock of Ages” is a hedonistic celebration of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It romanticizes the era, romanticizes the rock and roll lifestyle, and romanticizes a period of time when America’s values and society continued to decline. It’s hard to like that, no matter how it’s dressed up.
The film is set in 1987. It’s a musical that relies on classic rock songs of the 1980s that pop up throughout, often with the characters on screen taking credit for creating them. The film follows Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough), a young singer who travels to Hollywood from Oklahoma to catch her big break.
Soon she gets a job at the Bourbon Room, a local dive club, where she meets a bartender named Drew (Diego Boneta). They both work for club owner Dennis (Alec Baldwin), who needs a big break. His only friend seems to be his right-hand man, Lonny (Russell Brand).
The Bourbon Room faces fierce opposition from the mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and of course from the changing tastes in American music. Dennis pins all his hopes on the farewell show for rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) and his band, Arsenal.
Jaxx’s oily manager, Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti), has other ideas. Soon the show at the Bourbon Room becomes more than just a concert, it’s a battle to preserve a sacred lifestyle.
There are a lot of things you have accept, structurally, when watching a musical. The strange times that people break out into song; the fact the songs seem ill-suited to expressing the moment; and the lack of realism. But “Rock of Ages” pushes that to extreme levels.
In fact, at times, it seems more like something you’d seen in a John Waters parody than something that is supposed to be taken seriously. But the film takes itself and its subject matter very seriously, which is both a problem and confounding.
It would be very easy to watch this film and think that the people that spend their days blitzed and their nights writhing on stage are the ones to be revered. In fact, it’s hard not to believe that is exactly the point of the film. Jaxx is in a perpetual state of inebriation, doesn’t seem to really care about anyone, is barely good at his job anymore, and seems to be lacking basic social skills. Yet, in this movie, he’s revered as a hero. Not by me, which is what made it difficult to sit through this film.
“Rock of Ages” is a piece of 1980s nostalgia that is so intent on cramming in as many songs from the era as possible that it doesn’t really concern itself with plot development, character development, or relevance to the audience. It is, as I said, a hedonistic celebration of the era and all the promise those that lived in the era felt sex, drugs, and rock and roll provide.
In 2012, you can’t help but feel that message sounds as empty and hollow as it should have to the people seduced by the lure of the stage then. It certainly doesn’t seem to warrant this kind of celebration. It’s like the filmmakers want us to celebrate an era that helped put the decline of our society on the fast track.
And it doesn’t even really do that well. Take for example the grand closing number, “Don’t Stop Believing.” When it appeared on Journey’s “Escape” album in 1981, it was a big song. In 2012, it’s the most downloaded song in the history of iTunes thanks to a little show called “Glee.”
“Don’t Stop Believing” was the first big musical number for “Glee,” and it’s become a standard for the crew. I have seen them perform it on the show and in person, and if “Rock of Ages” had even one tenth the heart and creativity of the “Glee” cast when performing that song, and the many others in the film, it might have been at least a little entertaining.
Sadly, Hough isn’t the star Hollywood seems to think she is, and Boneta is like a very poor man’s Robert Pattinson.
They don’t have a lot of chemistry on screen, and none of their musical numbers really pop. And that’s a problem since they’re essentially carrying the film.
I did appreciate the humor — or attempts at humor — from Baldwin and Brand, though their storyline takes an unexpected turn. And I did appreciate the way Cruise threw himself into the role. He has a decent voice, but the role and the film are shrouded in so much camp that it just doesn’t work.
For those that continue to pine for the late 1980s world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, “Rock of Ages” will be a treat. For those looking for a meaningful or entertaining film, look elsewhere.
“Rock of Ages” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking, and language.
Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta and Tom Cruise
Director: Adam Shankman
Runtime: 123 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language, some heavy drinking and suggestive dancing