Saturday, June 23. 2012
This film is, in so many ways, the ultimate Jukebox Musical. Where the shows such as Mamma Mia that are labelled that way are actually based on a single band's back catalogue, Rock of Ages takes the whole of late '80's AOR as its (potential) source material. In fact, if you added a load of 70's heavy rock to the mix I could take you to a pub or two where you could find all of the music on the jukebox for real. If you know that genre and like it, the chances are you will really enjoy this film. There will be stuff you don't like probably (too much Bon Jovi for my taste for example) but think of a power anthem or a big hit protest anthem, with the odd power ballad too, from the mid-late 80's and there's a reasonable chance it will be in there - possibly as a fully featured song, possibly a riff or two in the background. Quite a lot of the songs are really pretty predictable based on a very simple story line - girl travels from nowhere to LA following the dream, works as a waitress in a rock bar, falls in love and sees the world of Rock N Roll. Add an anti-rock political campaign from the mayor and his wife and that's it.
One band that weren't represented were 10c.c. (probably a bit too early, they were more 70's I guess) but just as they sang "Life is a Minestrone" it would be fair to describe this movie as a thin-crust ham and cheese pizza. The thin crust is the incredibly thin story. The cheese, the enormous piles of cheese, go with the music, the 'fashion' and the hair. And the ham came from the acting of everyone except Tom Cruise - who played it completed straight. That really ought to be the springboard for me to slate the film. But I can't. I don't remember the last time I laughed so much at a movie - I laughed nearly enough to cry on several occasions. I also heroically resisted the temptation to sing along to just about everything - but there was certainly foot-tapping and probably 'rapid, rhythmic flexion and extension of the cervical spine' (which is, as close I can remember, genuinely a BMJ article's description of head-banging). Perhaps the cheese is less the style and more my memories of that time squeezed through the lens of the camera, or perhaps that era will be forever cheesy to more modern and older sensibilities.
Moving on to consider the actors, there's a bunch of rather plastic, interchangeable young ones. Blonde if they're female, mostly brunette if they're male, but really that's the only difference between them. They were pretty, they sang and danced well and looked as good as you can manage with the poodle perms and the necessary acres of denim-and-leather look. They, whether for the music or inspired directing, relaxed and hammed it up to complement the cheesy story line - it just worked. That was helped by the fact that Tom Cruise in the role of the ageing rock god Stacee Jaxx who is notionally the starring role went down the opposite route and play it totally straight. Perhaps that was the only way to cope with the craziness of playing the biggest rock star on the planet and living the excesses of ALL of them in one character. The character is just so OTT that it has to be played straight. Whatever the reason that worked too, and rather made the hamming it up appear almost reasonable in the circumstances. There are other solid performances from less interchangeably plastic actors around too. Russell Brand gave the impression of (mostly) rather playing himself, although with a great twist. And, to be fair, Brand does already look and act a bit like an 80's rocker so he didn't have to exert his acting talents that much for the role. Alec Baldwin as the fat, grey-haired rocker who now runs the club turned in an excellent performance. Catherine Zeta-Jones was great as the wife of the mayor although the 'twist' in her story was really rather obvious although it helped keep things ticking along nicely and Paul Giamatti as Jaxx's manager and ultimate representation of "the man" worked really well. I can't tell you my favourite moments without spoilers (yes, even in the wafer-thin plot), but Giamatti is in two of them for very different reasons. Most the singing was really pretty good - although belting out rock anthems often doesn't stretch the vocal talents too much in fairness, just the strength of the voice. Mary J. Blige was there to give some proper talent to some of the more intricate - although not softer - stuff and Julianne Hough, who played the girl who travelled to LA, can carry a tune with some power and skill too.
And although I've never been in a pole-dancing club, the well choreographed pole-dancing routine that accompanied one song was amazing for its sheer athleticism. Rhythmic use of high heels rather than high hats or snapping fingers was new to me too and used well so it never became an annoying gimmick.
This might be a film that appeals to a small subset of people of the right sort of age and musical taste. The 12A certificate suggests children are allowed in with an adult. And while there's no nipples or similar I would feel rather uncomfortable taking a child to see it. The white powder and whacky baccy parts of the rock-n-roll lifestyle might be absent, but sex, large lakes-full of booze and rock-n-roll was certainly there in abundance. But hey, if you're in their target age range, you're big enough to cope and I would heartily recommend it.
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