It’s been about two hours since I left the theater after seeing Rock of Ages. I’m still trying to figure out just what the plot of it actually was. There were a number of characters, but the plot was so thin that I can’t figure out what the purpose of the movie was, beyond just showing famous people singing songs from the 80s.
Let’s try to get through this. First, you have Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta). Sherrie is a small-town girl (if Tulsa and its nearly 400,000 residents count as a small town) living in a lonely world who took the midnight train to anywhere (Los Angeles, to be precise). Drew is a city boy who might have been born and raised in South Detroit, but all we really get about his back story is that his dad told him he would fail. Sherrie is an aspiring singer who comes to LA to find fame and fortune. Ditto for Drew. Along the way, they fall in love, break up after a stupid misunderstanding, and take some detours in the worlds of stripping and boy bands. Ultimately, Drew ends up writing the classic song “Don’t Stop Believing” about how much he loves Sherrie.
The club where Sherrie and Drew work is called the Bourbon Room. It’s run by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his assistant, Lonny (Russell Brand). Dennis has apparently been running the Bourbon Room for some time. It’s never really clear how long the club has been around, but we’re supposed to assume that it’s been a really long time. There were lots of albums recorded there. This is basically the information we’re given. Oh, and somewhere along the way, Dennis and Lonny fell in love. We don’t quite know whether it’s before or after they sing “Can’t Fight This Feeling” to each other, though. There’s this weird montage where they’re on a carousel and doing all sorts of couple-y stuff, but I don’t really know if that was real or imagined. I don’t know where in the timeline that fell. I didn’t understand.
The Bourbon Room is public enemy number one, at least according to Los Angeles mayoral candidate Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston). Well, not really him. It’s more his wife, Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), that wants the Bourbon Room to go down. We mainly only see Mike cheating on his wife and getting spanked in a church. Patricia says she wants to clean up the streets of Los Angeles in order to protect the children from the evils of rock and roll. Really, it’s all because she hooked up with Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) one night and he never called her back.
So, this brings us to the final plotline, the one concerning Stacee Jaxx. Stacee is an aging rock star who decides to start a solo career. He and his band Arsenal perform their final show together at the Bourbon Room. That show is the source of the misunderstanding between Sherrie and Drew. It’s where Stacee’s super slimy manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) discovers Drew and his band Wolfgang Von Colt. It’s where Paul proceeds to rip off Dennis. It’s where Rolling Stone writer Constance (Malin Akerman) sticks her tongue in Stacee’s ear and “rocks his world.” Trust me, that scene is something I’m never going to unsee. That same article sets up the big showdown between Stacee and Paul and the big concert at the end of the film.
If those past four paragraphs feel super disconnected and like they don’t quite make sense together, then I have done this film justice. The problem with jukebox musicals like this and Mamma Mia are that they are taking completely unconnected songs and trying to find a unifying thread among them. At least with Mamma Mia, all the songs were by the same band and could be connected in that way. For this film, however, they just picked some of the biggest hits of the 80s and mashed them together.
I guess the main message of the movie was that rock and roll was still alive. Considering I thought most of the protests against rock and roll ended in the early 1960s, all the protests felt really out of place in the 1980s. Though I should have known better than to try to find a message. I just wanted so badly for those two hours of my life to be meaningful. Instead, I got one of the most poorly-written, horribly-acted films in recent memory. Rather than leaving it up to the actors to try to convey emotions, we got super heavy-handed exposition. The best example was the exchange in which Dennis and Lonny discover their feelings for each other. It went something like this:
Chico: The beer guy is here to see you, Dennis.
Dennis: (while cradling Lonny’s face) Tell him I’m busy.
Chico: Doing what?
Dennis: Falling in love.
It was as clunky as I just wrote it. Every time Alec Baldwin was singing or dancing, I just cringed because it was like when your dad starts dancing and you just want him to stop. Boneta and Hough had absolutely zero chemistry. Zeta-Jones’ entire existence in the film was basically unnecessary. Cruise was so awkward and was the source of so many images that I will never be able to get out of my head ever again. Brand and Giamatti weren’t atrocious, which is high praise for the film as a whole.
There was only one reason that I actually stayed until the end of the film. Her name is Tawni Edwards and she is my cousin. In the scenes where they sing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” she is one of the featured dancers. During the protest outside the Bourbon Room, she is the one with short, curly red hair standing right next to Catherine Zeta-Jones. My mom and I went to the theater to have the chance to see Tawni on the big screen and that was awesome. The three to five minutes that she was on screen were hands down the highlight of the film. It’s just the other two hours of my life that I want back.