If you’re someone who just doesn’t get musicals, then this probably isn’t the movie for you. You can’t walk into a movie like this and be shocked when characters burst out into song and dance at any given moment, nor can you eyeroll at cheesy moments. That’s just how musicals work. And with this movie, it’s go big hair or go home.
Also, please note that this movie review will be more difficult than most since it’s really hard to critique a film adaptation of a musical without critiquing the musical, itself. While I’d love to comment on the use of ’80s rock covers/mashups vs. original music, I can’t. So, instead, I’m going to focus a lot on the portrayal of the characters, the performances, and the story.
Here’s the plot as described by Warner Bros: “Rock of Ages tells the story of small town girl Sherrie and city boy Drew, who meet on the Sunset Strip while pursuing their Hollywood dreams. Their rock ‘n’ roll romance is told through the heart-pounding hits of Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, Whitesnake, and more.”
In my opinion, the number one reason to go see this movie is for the supporting characters, Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand). Obviously, Russell Brand looked like he belonged in this movie because he always dresses like a flamboyant ’80s rocker (and that hair!); but Alec Baldwin looked hilarious in his getup. Every time he appeared in a scene, I just started cracking up. And Baldwin and Brand have the best dialogue out of any of the characters in this movie by far. They bicker, they joke, and they have some tender moments of *ahem* friendship. But the best moment of all is when they sing “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” I promise you won’t be able to keep yourself from laughing.
Tom Cruise’s portrayal of Stacee Jaxx was weird—but a good weird, I suppose. You could argue that it really didn’t take much for him to get into the character since Tom Cruise is a method actor (and he’s already weird, thanks to the Church of Scientology). I’m kind of curious which rock star(s) he studied in order to portray this version of Jaxx though. He had a staggering gait, a “dead behind the eyes” look, and a soft-spoken voice that made him sound like he was drunk or high (or both) constantly. Hmm, now that I think about it, that pretty much just sums up every rock star…well, ever.
This might be more praise for the Rock of Ages musical rather than the movie, but at least the movie kept up with it. The music is very engaging. I was tapping my feet and mouthing the lyrics throughout the entire movie, which is always a good sign. In fact, I bought songs from the soundtrack on iTunes the very next day and have been jamming out since.
Speaking of music, I found it funny (and ironic) that the church ladies with the mayor’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) were singing Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” during the “We Built This City” mash-up—especially since that song was written to fight against people who told rock ‘n rollers not to rock ‘n roll.
And there was so much social commentary in the movie about the music industry that I almost didn’t know what to do with myself! There’s the devolution of rock bands into pop groups and boy bands; the tortured, never-on-time singer who ditches the band that made him famous to go solo; the rock wannabe who ends up getting more than he bargained for when he goes “big”; and the skeezy manager who does whatever it takes to get money. Screw the main characters falling in love and making their rock ‘n roll dreams come true! This movie is about the music industry and all of the messed up crap that goes on inside of it. That’s why the character Constance (Malin Akerman), a reporter from Rolling Stone, is in this story. She’s basically the mirror held up to the music industry.
Now, it was obvious that the screenwriters had a hard time taking a two-act musical—which usually lasts around 3 to 4 hours—and putting it into a movie time-frame because the plot felt extremely rushed. At one point, I was very aware of the fact that the two main characters, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta), had already decided they loved each other after 24 hours of having met. With a movie plot, writers need to be able to make five minutes of romance feel like it’s taken place over years so that the audience doesn’t question the legitimacy of the relationship and/or the sanity of the characters. As I said before, the writers took five minutes of the two characters making googly eyes at each other and made it feel like it was exactly five minutes. Which leads me into my next point…
Sherrie and Drew lacked the necessary romantic chemistry. Even worse, I can’t even pinpoint whose fault it was. Was it the actors? Was it the writers? Was it the director? I don’t know. But I will say that their chemistry was so bad that, by the end of the movie, I didn’t give two shits whether or not they ended up together. In fact, I was kind of hoping they’d get mauled to death by the Stacee Jaxx’s baboon. For a movie (and time period) so ridden with sex, you’d think the main characters would’ve had more lip time. But you only got two kisses. TWO. And they weren’t even thrilling.
Also, Julianne Hough…why are you trying to be an actress? Don’t get me wrong. I loved her when she was one of the professional ballroom dancers on Dancing with the Stars. The girl can dance the hell out of anything. She is also a pretty little thing on the screen, so I can see why they’d want her in a movie. But the girl cannot act, nor can she sing. Her voice makes me want to punch someone in the face. It’s what I imagine a three-year-old Barbie doll would sound like. And don’t you dare say, “Well, Bailey. She’s trying to fit into an ’80s time.” Horseshit. She’s in a musical movie about rock ‘n roll, not Katy Perry’s Part of Me. I kid you not, I debated with myself over whether or not I should download the songs from the soundtrack that had her in them because her voice drives me that crazy.
Annnnnnnd what the f*** was up with Tom Cruise’s singing? Did anyone else notice this? People keep praising him for his singing in this movie, but I noticed that it didn’t sound a goddamn thing like him. Most people’s singing voices sound similar to their talking voices. But Tom Cruise’s singing sounded nothing like his talking. I see two possible scenarios here. Either his voice was “meh” so they just auto-tuned the absolute hell out of it; or they mixed Cruise’s voice with an actual rock singer’s voice. I don’t know what they did, but I can tell something’s off.
Overall, if you love the cheesy goodness of the ’80s, then you’ll love this movie. It’s not one of the best musical film adaptations I’ve ever seen. I’m sure the actual musical is much, much, MUCH better than this movie. But I do think it’s easy to look beyond the terrible lead actors and just enjoy the movie for its music and great jokes. It’s an entertaining movie—one in which I laughed my ass off and sang along to. I just didn’t get personally invested in the characters, which is usually the bigger selling point for me as a moviegoer.