Director: Adam Shankman.
Script: Chris D’Arienzo, Justin Theroux and Allan Loeb.
Based on: the homonymous stage musical by Chris D’Arienzo.
Cast: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Malin Åkerman, Paul Giamatti, etc.
Rock of Ages is a contemporary musical set during the 80s that tells the eternal story of a naïve country girl that goes to Hollywood so she can make it in the business (or so we think) and finds love and acceptance in a community of misfits.
In the end, for all the rock and sense of rebelliousness that it tries to depict, Rock of Ages is a classical musical with a classical narrative. Curiously, though it’s set in an era of what Kessler would call ambivalent musicals -full of insurgence and experimentation-, the story ends up turning into an absolutely conservative tale.
The script tries to manage too many different narratives at once: the love story between Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta), the impending demise due to debts of the nightclub The Bourbon Room, the fall from grace of singer and rock-star Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), the battle of Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) against Jaxx and what he represents,… And, as is to be expected, it fails to truly develop all of them.
Consequently, many storylines seem shabbily forced into the narrative with no purpose whatsoever, and some are merely suggested just to be dropped as quickly –like Sherrie’s ambition of becoming a singer, which she quickly abandons in favor of finding “love”; the gay couple’s romance (Baldwin and Brand); the issue –which doesn’t seem to bother Constance (Makin Åkerman) at all- of Jaxx’s promiscuity; Sherrie’s relationship with her grandmother and her family, etc.
In the end, the film becomes nothing but an oddly paced collage of musical numbers and characters –many of which seem to serve no real intention, but to slightly delay the imminent finale, or provide a comedic interruption that’s not needed, since we never really involve ourselves emotionally with any of the character’s dramas. Likewise, it’s quite difficult to identify the film as a comedy or a tragedy, since it ends up alienating the viewer, stripping us from our ability to actually relate to that which we are watching.
That estrangement comes mainly from poor acting, self-conscious musical numbers and inept writing. Visually, the film also fails to deliver, as it ends up adopting a completely sugary view of the eighties, complete with a MTV Pop music spark –the same Pop quality that the narrative tries to point out as ridiculous through the introduction of the boy band plot.
Musically, the film has many average yet enjoyable voices. Only Mary J. Blinge manages to stand out –which is thoroughly incompatible with the futility of her character-, and actor Tom Cruise manages to surprise with a clumsy yet satisfactory vocal performance as a rock star.
However, it’s Cruise’s take on Jaxx’s character what truly makes the film worth watching. Stacee Jaxx holds the only interesting storyline in the entire film as the washed-up, licentious and decadent rock singer who alienates everyone around him with his aloofness and dissipation. Although the narrative never provides a satisfying development for the character –and the resolution that it does provide is quite disappointing-, Cruise’s acting is entrancing, and completely steals the spotlight from the main couple.
For such a top billed film, actors Zeta-Jones, Giamatti and Baldwin are thoroughly uninteresting, and their musical interventions equally discouraging. The “novices”, Hough and Boneta, are equally dull and their love story never manages to seize the audience since it seems rushed, cliché and meaningless.
They reunite, the night-club is saved and the falling rock-star gets back on his feet, thus all conflicts seemingly disappear. Yet we, as spectators, can’t help but feel more than puzzled about what we just experienced, and how a rock film managed to have such a ludicrously sickly ending.
It’s not new, though. Old narratives that have taken a stance in favor of rock music during the 50s and 60s also transformed into conservative tales of perfect harmony, achieved through the miraculous love relationship of a heterosexual white couple.
Had it been a real comedy or a parody, we would just sit back and enjoy it. But it seems like the film took itself too seriously, and the purpose somehow vanished in the final product.
All in all, Rock of Ages is a movie you can enjoy on account of its use of old rock classics and some agreeable comedic moments. But do not, under any circumstance, expect plot or character development. All the elements were there, yet they weren’t put to use.
Final verdict: popcorn flick.