Rock of Ages.
I see the irony that my last post also reviewed something called Rock of Ages but these are two very different things. Today’s topic is the new film which stars a few people I don’t know, Tom Cruise, and then some people I do know but who get relegated to supporting characters.
The basic gist is that a girl moves from Oklahama to Los Angeles in the 1980s and wants to be a singer. She meets a boy who also wants to be a famous singer. Tom Cruise stars as hugely famous artist Stacee Jaxx who is an icon in the rock and roll world. There’s also a whole other crew of people that come in and out of the story, but these three are the important ones (and really, only one of those three makes any sort of splash, but I’ll get to that).
So what works?
I love 1980s rock, so I couldn’t help but bob my head and even sing along at certain points. But the problem with this, is that the originals are far better than these covers. I wasn’t tempted to look up the covers on Spotify when I got home, but rather look up the originals. The soundtrack is amazing but it’s an echo of the source material. I hate to say it, but Glee has perfected the cover. In this aspect, people hear their version and want to find that version to listen to. Rock of Ages doesn’t have that effect. I’m going to go home and look up Whitesnake and Journey, not the Original Rock of Ages Cast Recordings. So, bonus points for a great song selection but the performances didn’t catch me.
Tom Cruise really owns this movie. It’s an outlandish character but it’s the only character with any sort of depth. There’s a really cool moment when he confronts the issue of what the public makes rock stars into. They want rock stars to be sex icons and rebels and dangerous, so that’s what rock stars become. It was a convincing scene and one that opened up a whole other level of Cruise’s character, who actually struggles to remain himself. I appreciated the nuances, though the teeny-bopper crowd that will likely flock to this movie may not appreciate those moments.
As supporting characters go, Paul Giamatti was perfectly cast as the agent you love to hate. His interactions with Cruise were some of the most entertaining scenes in the movie. I also appreciated both Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, though it felt like the writing didn’t do their comedic talent justice. The funniest moments between them were likely improvised (aside from a musical number that will shock you and bust your gut at the same time).
What didn’t work?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about expectations and how my expectations might affect my rating. Why did Men in Black 3 get a better rating than Prometheus? I’m working on a full article about that. But for now… What did I expect from Rock of Ages? When I think of musicals, there are some that really get me: Chicago, Rent, Moulin Rouge, and to some extent even more cheesier movies like Enchanted and The Muppets. But for me, I expect musicals to give me goosebumps. I want the music to envelop me and to cause emotions that a traditional narrative wouldn’t be able to achieve. I expect musicals to culminate with a huge number that gets me teary-eyed.
Rock of Ages failed me. For all of the huge epic songs and emotional ballads, I didn’t feel anything. I feel like the weight of this burden falls solely on the two stars: Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough. I had no idea who either of these people are (and I still don’t) but I wasn’t impressed. I mean, it was better than I could sing, sure, but I felt like their performances couldn’t hold up a movie with a cast that includes Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bryan Cranston, Mary J. Blige, and all of the other countless huge names that I’ve already talked about. When Hough started to belt out her first song, I literally sighed and thought to myself Well, this is embarrassing. When I caught Christina Aguilera in Burlesque, I could at least believe that she was going to be a star. But Hough was unconvincing and actually detracted from a few songs. And Diego Boneta wasn’t especially bad but I always thought to myself that I’d rather be listening to the original. Their acting was superficial and their singing wasn’t amazing enough to carry a musical film like this.
Have they done better things? I’m sure there’s a reason they were chosen for this, but I have no idea what it was. I felt like the movie lacked heart and I wasn’t especially interested in what happened to them (I kept wanting the movie to go back to Stacee Jaxx and the much more interesting subplot).
This felt like two movies. Part of it was a superficial mix of High School Musical and every “unknown singer works at a bar and becomes famous” story ever. The other part was an intriguing look at what rock and roll does to a man. Obviously the latter interested me more, but it was a subplot that was meant to support the first storyline. You might enjoy this movie if you can cope with poppy (and shallow) covers of 1980s classics, as well as cheesy acting by its two leads. If you can suffer through this, you might enjoy the nuanced performances by the supporting characters that often provide more substance than the movie’s leads.