The boyfriend and I went to see “Rock of Ages” yesterday. We felt it was an appropriate way to celebrate Father’s Day (we are both parents, see, to our beloved child, Corgi) since we thoroughly enjoyed the Broadway musical when it stopped by the Pantages here in L.A. We were curious what the Hollywood adaptation would bring to the table.
The movie was… well… exactly what I expected. Pleasant, fun, inoffensive, but overall underwhelming. My boyfriend and I had both been surprised to admit that we’d LOVED the musical, since we normally cringe, grit out teeth, and constantly check the time when we go to any form of live theater. I had been won over by the fact that it was all about my favorite musical era: the 80s. I almost pass out from excitement every time I hear “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” (I was born a decade too late.) Anyway, since I’d loved the live show so much, I knew that the movie version wouldn’t stack up. Hollywood kind of ruins everything, anyway. But I was hopeful.
Call this a review, or more of a comparison of the two adaptations, whatever you want. I think of this as a general spewing of my thoughts, with lots of spoilers (you are warned!).
We’ll start with the good stuff. Here’s what the movie did WELL:
1. Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx was a superb casting move. No one else could have pulled it off quite as well… after all, Cruise IS Stacee Jaxx - his life has gotten so out of control that he can’t really find himself anymore, and so he talks with his eyes all bugged out and he tries to convert people to Scientology and shit.
2. It was inevitable that the ending of the love story would change (the musical doesn’t have things end quite so sweetly for the aspiring young singers who fall in love), but I was surprised at how well it worked in the movie’s version. It was very Hollywood, but not so saccarine as to cause eye-rolling. It fit the tone of the movie well.
3. Speaking of those young lovebirds, I was pleasantly surprised that the writers chose to have Sherrie NOT sleep with Stacee. After that happens in the stage version, it’s nearly impossible to find her character likable or identifiable, since she’s basically portrayed as a stupid whore.
4. I am SO glad they took out that god-awful annoying hippie protestor chick from U.C. Berkeley and replaced her with Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character, Patricia Whitmore, the mayor’s wife who happens to make the abolishment of rock and roll her personal mission. The hippie chick was beyond grating.
5. Speaking of cuts, no one’s missing the two German dudes who wanted to tear down The Bourbon Room. They were useless fodder.
6. The addition of Paul Giamatti’s character, Stacee’s manager Paul Gill, was a great writing adjustment - it kept the all storylines much more connected and streamlined.
7. Diego Boneta. Now THAT’s a star:
Here’s where the movie stumbled:
1. I love me some Bryan Cranston, but what the hell was the point of his character? And WHY ON EARTH would he cheat on his wife, CATHERINE ZETA-JONES (aka the hottest woman ever), with some ho-hum assistant? Also, what happens to him in the end? He just disappears, while we assume Catherine leaves him to go back to his groupie ways… I don’t know. I need CLOSURE.
2. The songs were so-so, as is usually the case when actors and/or pretty people (i.e. Julianne Hough, a lovely girl and a fantastic dancer with an obnoxiously thin voice) are doing the singing, but what the film lacked most was the immediacy of a live rock band. That is how rock is meant to be experienced: raw, all-encompassing, blasting out your eardrums… you actually get this in the stage version, but not so in this dubbed, flashy film version. The men also basically hit the same notes all the way through - no falsettos here.
3. Why the hell is the strip club that Sherrie ends up at so darn CLASSY? It’s not seedy or scary at all; I mean, jesus, I’D like to work there. She doesn’t even wear mildly skimpy clothing, either… When she finally makes the decision to hit the pole, she’s wearing a long-sleeved black leotard. The only thing risque about it is there’s some strips cut out in the cloth above her boobs so you get a hint of cleavage. Who cares?!
4. Mary J. Blige was focused on a disproportionate amount, given that her character, strip club owner Justice Charlier, was all but cut out of the movie. In the play, we get to know her backstory, which is heartbreaking and real. In the movie, we see Justice crying inexplicably in one shot out on the street in the rain. What the hell’s the matter, Mary J.? Why you crying? You’re still getting a million close-ups (And don’t think we didn’t notice that you keep looking directly at the camera. That’s a no-no in acting land, my dear.).
5. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand - a duo I could not have been more excited to see. And yet, like Justice, their characters (Dennis Dupree and Lonny, respectively) were reduced to next-to-nothing (damn time constraints). Those characters are the comic relief in the stage version - they hold the whole thing together. It was depressing to see neither Alec nor Russell get the chance to be very funny; for that matter, they didn’t get the chance to do very much at all.
6. There needed to be a hell of a lot more camp overall. Good old Warner Bros. tried to turn “Rock of Ages” into a legitimate movie musical, but the essence of the original is that it KNOWS it’s ridiculous. There are moments of hysterial self-referential sarcasm about how “dramatic” it is when the love story starts hits a rocky point. Lonny serves as the “Playwright” who guides the audience through the story, making comments about how close we must be to the end of Act 1 because shit’s going down, and thank goodness because everyone has to pee. It’s brilliant.
If you get the chance, go see the currently-touring stage version of “Rock of Ages.” The crowd gets rowdy, the music gets real, and everyone’s drunk and laughing and having a riotous good time. In a THEATER (I know, what?). It’s insane, it’s hilarious, and it’s a lot of feel-good fun.
The movie did its best, but at the end of the day, it couldn’t quite capture the unique spirit of the stage musical.