(Dir: Adam Shankman, 2012)
I consider myself a pretty omnivorous film watcher, but one genre that always escapes my attention is musicals. You can't argue with a bit of Grease, but I can honestly say I find it extremely difficult to get excited about watching something where the narrative is consistently broken (or moved along) by song and dance. It just irritates me and I find myself going into active avoidance mode. So why oh why when I started seeing trailers for Rock Of Ages did I sit there thinking, I really want to watch that!? That doesn’t usually happen to me. But I ummed and arred about it, heard it was getting bad reviews and finally relented, drawn to the cinema like a moth to flame.
Predictably the story is as clichéd as they come. It’s 1987 and Sherrie (Julianne Hough) steps off the bus in LA with stars in her eyes and nothing but a suitcase full of rock records in her hand and a desire to sing. By chance she meets Drew (Diego Boneta), a barman and budding singer, outside the legendary home of rock n’roll on Sunset Strip, the Bourbon Room, where he gets her a job and the two fall for each other. Inside, club owner Dennis (Alec Baldwin) is counting on legendary rock star Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) to play a show that will earn him enough money to save the club, whilst Jaxx’s slimy manager Paul (Paul Giamatti) has other ideas and the new mayor’s prim wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is on a desperate mission to clean up the Strip and close the club.
So here’s the big surprise - I thoroughly enjoyed Rock Of Ages. Who’d have thought it? After getting past the slightly awkward opening scene on the bus as Sherrie arrives, I got into the rhythm of the film and how it uses song and dance. And it’s the music that made it work for me, using classic 80’s rock and hair metal songs alongside a handful original numbers, rather than going the route of all original music. As someone who's deeply intoxicated with metal and rock this is music that appeals to me, and although it's not the exact music I grew up with (Guns N’Roses aside), it reaches back to the core of my music tastes. Even as I get older I've found myself developing a small appreciation for the power ballads of the eighties. For my money this certainly beats the show tunes from musicals of old.
The other big positive is the fantastic cast they’ve assembled. Hough and Boneta are both credible leads, can sing and look hot. In fact I got so caught up I found myself falling for Hough’s character as well, which always helps you buy into a film. Baldwin, Giamatti, Zeta-Jones and Russell Brand (his character works in the club too) all put in good turns, even if their singing is not that fantastic, but it was still nice to see some solid recognisable faces. As a lot of people have been pointing out Cruise is pretty much the highlight. Playing a burnt-out over-excessed rock god befits him. He looks the part, seems constantly trashed and is clearly having a lot fun. And when he’s on stage he has the requisite charisma and power, but also manages to bring a bit of hidden depth later on. All hail Stacee Jaxx!
The set and production design are all solid, balancing the right amount of glamour and sleazy rock n’roll. The eighties costumes are enjoyable too, particularly Boneta’s when things take a change in direction for him in the second half. I also liked the Tower Records scenes – there was something satisfying about spotting the records they had on shelves, seeing posters on the wall for bands like Slayer and Iron Maiden, and best of all noticing such minor details as the old yellow Tower Records price tags, which took me back!
All in all I really enjoyed Rock Of Ages, probably a lot more than I expected. It’s not a great film by any means and it is ridiculously cheesy and unoriginal. It also suffers from some bad pacing, being far longer than necessary and dragging a lot in the second half due to the story's imbalanced structure. But for enjoyment purposes alone that’s something I was able to overlook. The music makes it, as does the cast. Without a connection to rock n'roll and the sounds of this era I can see it being another bland musical to some. Does it change my feelings towards musicals? Not really; Rock Of Ages just appeared to be the rare example of one that might work for me, and it did, offering a nice change of pace from my usual viewing. Now to get all those songs out of my head.