Rock of Ages
Release date: June 15, 2012
Director: Adam Shankman
Screenplay by: Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, Allan Loeb
Stage Musical by: Chris D’Arienzo
Cast: Diego Boneta, Julianne Hough, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mary J. Blige, Malin Åkerman, Alec Baldwin, Bryan Cranston and Tom Cruise
Rock of Ages is set in a Los Angeles that doesn’t really exist. It’s in a universe I like to call “musical land.” This is not just a universe where people burst into song and dance and no one thinks it odd. No, musical land is also a universe where people are clichés and everyone, deep down, has a heart of gold. A place where you can get a job at the drop of a hat and even if your suitcase is stolen, you still have a full wardrobe. Once you’ve accepted that and suspend your disbelief, you’ll be able to go along for the ride and, as the tagline says, you’ll be ready for nothin’ but a good time.
The film, based on the Tony-nominated 2006 Broadway musical of the same name, is about a girl named Sherrie (Julianne Hough) from Oklahoma who comes to Los Angeles seeking fame and fortune as a singer. When she gets there she meets a wannabe rock star who moonlights as a bartender at The Bourbon Room named Drew (Diego Boneta). You can pretty much see where this film is going from the beginning, but that’s okay. The film’s plot is as simple as the plots found in the hairband songs its characters break into throughout the film. Much like the songs featured, every character in this film is either seeking love, heartbroken, or finding love all over again.
While relative newcomers Hough and Boneta are pretty bland as the film’s leads, it is the supporting characters that really shine. It’s fun to see Alec Baldwin as he is now playing a washed-up character in 1987, when you think about how hot he actually was in 1987. Russell Brand gives his most subtle and charming performance to date as the right hand man to Baldwin’s troubled bar owner. Paul Giamatti does what he does best, be creepy and slick as a manipulative music manager. Mary J. Blige plays a strip club owner with a heart of gold. Bryan Cranston plays the mayor of Los Angeles who, despite his vow to clean up the Sunset Strip, has a penchant for S&M. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays his wife, who has a secret in her past and Malin Åkerman plays Constance Sack — a name worthy of a Bond girl — a reporter for Rolling Stone Magazine. Everyone is a delight in their roles and the fun they had making the film is palpable.
The real star of the show, however, is Tom Cruise as aging rock god Stacee Jaxx, who may or may not have lost his mind along the lonely street of dreams. See what I did there? Anyways, Cruise is at the top of his game, channeling at times the subtle, yet manic energy he had in 1999’s Magnolia. He also does all his own singing. Who knew he had such pipes on him? This is the kind of performance from Cruise that I wish we saw more often. The kind of performance that shows he is capable of much more than just caricatures of himself. While the film’s opening weekend box office may be a career-low for the actor, this performance is anything but.
Anyone who is a fan of the era will find it really difficult not to sing along with tunes from Foreigner (Jukebox Hero, Waiting For A Girl Like You, I Want To Know What Love Is), Joan Jett (I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll), Pat Benatar (Hit Me With Your Best Shot), Twisted Sister (I Wanna Rock, We’re Not Gonna Take It) Journey (Don’t Stop Believin’) and many, many more. There’s also some great cameos, but I won’t spoil those for you.
A film like this is like the songs it features — it’s simple, it’s catchy and it’s an easy target for people who think they’re better than it. That’s okay, though, because the people who get a kick out of following Sebastian Bach and Axl Rose on Twitter, who still listen to their music often and who don’t let anyone tell them they shouldn’t enjoy it, will love this film. I have a sneaking suspicion it will become a bit of a cult classic with time. Until then, those of us who love it will continue to have nothin’ but a good time and there’s nothing wrong with that.