So I like rock music. I like rock music from the 70s and 80s, so I like AC/DC, I like Alice Cooper, I like Asia, I like Boston, I like Blue Öyster Cult, I like Europe, I like Foreigner, I like Living Colour, I like Meat Loaf, I Like Styx, I like Scorpions, I like Toto and I like Journey. Therefore, you might assume that I would enjoy Rock of Ages.
Well, you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong to think that I enjoyed Rock of Ages but I didn’t like it as much as I should have. It was great to go along to a showing and revel in all the classics being belted out by movie stars and tap my foot to the beat. It was a very fun movie. It didn’t take itself too seriously and for a musical built around rock music that’s goes a long way in setting the right kind of tone. Because it would have been extremely difficult for the film to maintain a serious tone whilst having Catherine Zeta-Jones do pelvic thrusts in a church to the tune of Hit Me With Your Best Shot.
Yet, that one scene also highlights a problem within the film. There was a certain lack of consistency. In one scene, characters would be talking about shutting down the rock clubs because they’re encouraging moral and social indecency then, in the next scene, they’d be singing rock songs themselves and humping and grinding against church pews. I realise that this is partially due to trying shoehorn a plot into a track list but it’s not as though the track list of the film is made up entirely of rock songs. At one point in the film, the male lead gets up on stage as part of a boy band and they proceed to mock and satire the manufactured pop genre. A change in the dance choreography or a different song might have given some scenes a little bit more potency.
Of course, that’s not necessarily the film’s fault. It is based on a Broadway musical so most of the dance routines and song choices came from the original theatre production. But it would be unfair to lay all the blame on the original music. Especially since the director has admitted to softening some aspects of the original plot. Yes, you read that correctly. Adam Shankman took a musical about rock and censored it and then portrays a women’s group trying to do the exact same thing comically. That’s hypocrisy on the level of Jimmy Carr.
It wouldn’t be so bad but his attempts to avoid being too risqué are apparent throughout the movie. In one scene in particular, during a passionate rendition of I Want to Know What Love is, Stacee Jaxx, played by Tom Cruise, is suggested to have had sex with Constance Sack, played by Malin Åkerman. The scene ends with Jaxx having his leather pants undone and Constance lying squalled beside him in her underwear, panting heavily. The song only lasts for three minutes, most of which was spent undressing and posing suggestively. Perhaps it was suppose to be metaphorical sex but it just feels so unbelievable and cringe-worthy. It might have been better to end the scene with the two kissing or falling down off camera and then cutting to another scene and returning to the pair getting redressed later. That simple cut away would have made the scene feel so much more believable without adding an ‘R’ rating.
Speaking of Constance, she’s actually the most pointless character in the film. Her entire story arc consists of sleeping with Stacee Jaxx when she should be conducting an interview and blaming his manager from keeping him complacent with booze and chicks. All well and good, apart from the fact that when we first meet Jaxx and his manager, it’s his manager trying to pull him away from the booze and chicks and actually perform. So, to the viewer, Constance’s statement doesn’t even sound true. It’s no surprise then that Constance’s character was created for the film and the manager’s role was expanded. Neither is as important in the original production. Another rather meaningless character seems to be Justice Charlier, played by Mary J. Blige. This is not a knock on Mary J. Blige as an actor or a singer but Justice Charlier exists, in his film, to own a strip club where Sherrie Christian, played by Julianne Hough, ends up working and to sing backing vocals. Maybe there was a story there that was cut out but it is impossible to know. But to cast such a big name in what feels like a very small part is a huge waste.
For a rock musical, the ending was also just a bit too happy. Everything came together too perfectly for my liking. I’m not suggesting that films have end with everyone dead or in tears for it to be satisfying. However, because Shankman mellowed out the drama that the characters endure through the film they felt less deserving of their rewards by the end. It also seems to show that he doesn’t quite understand what the original production is all about. Whilst the film glorifies rock and gives Stacee Jaxx a revival as well as making both Sherrie and Drew Boley, played by Diego Boneta, rock careers, the music ended with the closure of the Bourbon Club and Jaxx escaping to Uruguay after being charged with statutory rape. It may sound like a downer ending but Drew realises in the end that it’s up to him to make his dreams come true. He chases down Sherrie at the train station. It is love, not fame, which makes him happy. They have endured all the trials and tribulations and they still love each other. Though the ending is much more bittersweet, the message is much more powerful because of it.
Rock of Ages is an enjoyable film. It’s just unfortunate that there are so many things that detract from the enjoyment. I want to like this film more but between directorial choices and a natural comparison with the original theatre production, it’s really difficult to ignore the gaping flaws and imperfections. If you want a fun night in where you can sing along and laugh at Tom Cruise’s impression of Axl Rose, then this film will fill the void. However, if you’re looking for something a bit more substantial, with plot and character development, go see the theatre production. Or rent out Chicago.