It was inevitable that Rock of Ages, the rollicking hit stage play celebrating hair bands and other 80’s rock-and-roll, would become a movie. But, as someone who has seen the play, I wonder, “would this be possible?”
The stage play has a power over people whether it’s a nostalgic force or simple unadulterated joy. Would that energy translate well to a different medium?
The cast in the play also refer to the audience multiple times in the second act becoming self-aware of the silliness and the clichés. Would the director of this big screen version feel comfortable directing their actors to break the fourth wall?
It’s a major relief that director Adam Shankman (of 2007’s Hairspray) has grabbed the bull by the horns, faced the challenges, and pulled off an excellent adaptation with his screenwriters only changing a couple of things to format it into movie form.
When some films attempt to capture that well played self-awareness, more times than not they become pompous. This is not the case for this movie’s script nor the actors’ performances.
Justin Theroux, Allan Loeb, and Chris D’Arienzo (who also provided the choice of songs) have been faithful to the material while also keeping the movie open to everyone and not just aimed towards the die-hards. They also carefully provide plenty of camp, making the experience light and enjoyable. That said, they may have provided more camp than expected. A scene where Mayor Bryan Cranston gets “punished” in a church is a prime example of this surprise.
As the characters are introduced, the script allows for them to have the spotlight so audiences can get aquatinted/reacquainted to them.
We have Julianne Hough playing Sherrie Christian, a struggling newbie trying to make a name for herself in the wacky world of Los Angeles. She runs into Drew Boley (played by theatrical newcomer Diego Boneta) and both of them hit it off almost immediately. Hough and Boneta have infectious chemistry with one another and have powerful vocals to match their vibrant charisma.
Drew brings Sherrie to The Bourbon Lounge , where she is introduced to bar owner Dennis Dupree (played by Alec Baldwin) and his business partner Lonny (played by Russell Brand who is in more of his element than we’ve ever seen before). Other odd personalities who show up are an Axl Rose-like pretentious band headliner named Stacee Jaxx (played by Tom Cruise) and his sleazy manager Paul Gill (played by Paul Giamatti).
These two characters in particular allow the screenwriter team to poke fun at high profile artists who have entered another realm of stuffiness. Stacee, at times, says things that would come out of Derek Zoolander’s mouth. Perhaps this is Theroux getting his feet wet for Zoolander 2.
With names like Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise, and Russell Brand were first announced, it screamed “stunt casting”. Colour me surprised when these actors proved me wrong.
Shankman has directed his cast in an over-the-top manner to entrap that high energy and it works in spades. The dancing and the singing are all rehearsed fantastically and will undoubtedly have audience members tapping their feet.
I must say though, as much as I appreciated Cruise’s hootspa, I kept on seeing Cruise wearing a bandana rather than seeing Jaxx. He’s almost too much of a recognizable babyface to pull off this brooding, spoiled rock star. Even though he sticks out like a sore thumb, he’s still a blast to watch and listen to.
As for the slight storytelling detours, they’re pulled off nicely making the material still feel true. However, around the middle, the energy takes a brief breather and, because Rock of Ages was so energetic up until this point, we can’t help but feel the pacing sag.
A couple of scenes where Sherrie spends some time in a gentlemen’s club, these moments feel like Shankman and his screenwriters realized they have Mary J. Blige in this setting and felt they needed to slow things down to showcase her singing and acting abilities. That said, once Sherrie leaves the club, the movie moves with her.
Shankman has directed Rock of Ages as if it’s still a play but also not doing a direct carbon copy rehash like we saw in 2005’s The Producers.
As a stand alone film, this still works and is just as enjoyable to a unaware movie goer as it is to someone who has seen the play eight times. It’s certainly one of the more joyful times I’ve had at the movies this year.