To start out this review, I feel it’s only fair to mention that I don’t know musicals. And by that, I mean I think I’ve seen less than three musicals in my entire life. I’ve seen Grease, I’ve seen The Music Man, and I may or may not have seen an opera on PBS once, but I don’t feel like that counts and I really don’t remember much of it anyways. Sure, I understand that musicals are inherently kind of silly and that characters will frequently break into song and start dancing around like lunatics anytime they please and no one even bats an eyelash, but if you were to ask me about what separates a good musical from a bad musical, my response would probably be something like, “Uhh… c–costume design?” I just don’t know musicals that well.
That being said, I do know movies. And I do like 80s music, so hey, let’s take a look at Rock of Ages, the new 80s-themed musical from director Adam Shankman (Hairspray, Zac Efron’s Pool Party*)
[*Note: ‘Zac Efron’s Pool Party’ is hardly one of Mr. Shankman’s most relevant projects, I just wanted everyone here to know that there is really something that exists that’s called ‘Zac Efron’s Pool Party.’]
Rock of Ages opens in 1987 on a bus headed for Los Angeles. It is here that the audience is introduced to Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough), a young, pretty, and talented girl from Oklahoma who is on her way to the California to try to make it as a rock singer. Soon after arriving in L.A., she meets Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), a kindhearted, handsome local with rock & roll aspirations of his own. The two hit it off immediately and Drew is able to get Sherrie a job at the Bourbon Room, a storied rock joint run by aging rocker Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his second-in-command, Lonny (Russell Brand). All is not well at the Bourbon Room, however, as the Mayor of Los Angeles (Bryan Cranston) and his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are making business harder and harder for the club in an absolutely Footlooseian effort to rid Los Angeles of the evils of rock music and its biggest star, Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise).
So what’s there to like about this movie? Well, lots, I suppose. For starters, the renditions of 80s hit songs are faithful to the original songs, while simultaneously feeling fresh and new (by the way, at one point, Hough and Boneta perform the song “More Than Words” by Extreme, which is totally a 90s song. Just sayin’). The cast does a great job performing the songs, though it may be that Catherine Zeta-Jones and Mary J. Blige steal the show in that regard.
Blige talked about how she became involved with Rock of Ages, ”I met (director) Adam Shankman about a year and a half, two years ago at a housewarming party for Jennifer Lopez. We were all just hanging out, having a good time and he kept saying he was going to put me in a movie, and you know, people say things when you hang out with them, but they don’t deliver. So we just ignored that and said, ‘Ok, we love you anyway.’ Six months later, he showed up with a script… and I went to work. I got an acting coach, I went even harder because he believed in me that I can do this.”
Rock of Ages is also good for a fair amount of laughs, due to the fact that the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously most of the time. From Paul Giamatti’s unbelievably sleazy manager character to a somewhat racy scene where Tom Cruise is literally singing into a woman’s butt, this movie delivers comedy on a dialogical level and a physical level and the jokes work.
Speaking of the film’s comedic moments, co-star Malin Ackerman said ”I was amazed at [Tom Cruise's] sense of humor and how far he wanted to go and, you know, that’s why he is who he is. That’s why he’s had such a long career, because he’s game for anything, but I really didn’t know what to expect in that sense. I had met him a few times before and he’s so lovely and charming and all of the above, but acting with someone can be very different… so you know, you gotta be ready for some crazy comedy… and Tom just loved it and ate it up and had such a great sense of humor and that was kind of the surprising part.”
However, you’ll notice that I said that the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously most of the time, and that’s a bit of an issue in this one. While Rock of Ages splashes in many wild and outrageous-for-PG-13 scenes, at it’s heart, it’s a love story between two young dreamers and it doesn’t entirely fit. The juxtaposition of the racy scenes with a rather predictable and constricting main storyline give the impression that the film has no idea how seriously it wants to be taken. Normally, that wouldn’t be such a problem, but the love story is so predictable and so formulaic and the film relies on it so heavily that it just comes across as awkward and unsure of itself, which is the exact opposite of what you’d expect from a film about rock & roll in the 80s. Where’s the swagger? Where’s the who-cares-all-I-want-to-do-is-rock-and-roll attitude? Where’s the freaking guitar solo?
So, at the end of the day, what we have in Rock of Ages is an entertaining movie with good tunes and decent laughs mixed in. The film falls short of its rock & roll promise, but is nevertheless fun to watch and I can easily see Rock of Ages becoming one of the big hits of the Summer. Or not. I need to watch more musicals.
Rock of Ages hits theaters Friday, June 15th.
Extras! Some interesting/funny blurbs from the Rock of Ages press conference:
“I saw [the play] after [production on the movie was completed] because (director) Adam [Shankman] did not want me to see it before [filming] because he said there was going to be changes from the movie to the musical and he didn’t want me to be influenced by them. But the first thing I did when we wrapped, I flew up to New York, I watched the play and I was very impressed by what they did with adapting the play to the musical.”
-Diego Boneta on the Broadway version of Rock of Ages
“I feel like we bonded before shooting because we were both on the same page. I mean, Julianne [Hough] is an amazing, talented actress and we wanted to bring our A-game to this. You know, because we only have Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie, so you know, we really wanted to deliver and we were both learning as much as we could and rehearsing and prepping and she became like my sister throughout that whole process.”
-Diego Boneta on his relationship with co-star Julianne Hough
“…A sister he makes out with.”
-Julianne Hough in response to Diego Boneta’s comments