How Rock of Ages Rocked My World

Photo by flickr user “Voitaco.”

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve riding around with my dad in his old Ford truck, listening to classic rock music on cassette tapes. I feel privileged to have grown up with the likes of Lynard Skynard, Queen, Elton John, The Eagles, and The Cars. That music has provided a soundtrack for me and my dad through the years.

Though Steve Perry was nowhere to be found, my dad and I saw Journey at Cricket (it wasn’t Ashley Home yet) when I was in high school, and I was definitely the girl who requested “Faithfully” at Senior Prom. When we did a classic rock dance recital during my high school years, I dedicated my solo to “Baby, I’m Amazed” to my dad and our Pointe piece to “Let It Be” is still my dad’s all-time favorite performance of mine.

It’s become a tradition for us to indulge in a classic rock concert as a daddy-daughter date annually. Our family has also been known to attend Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding when the lineup is good. My dad has told me that he’s proud of the fact that I got up out of my seat and rocked out hard when we heard Cheap Trick play “I Want You To Want Me” live at one such concert.

So when I saw the movie poster for Rock of Ages at a local Harkins theatre last year, I got nervous. Yes, the cast looked brilliant, but classic rock is so distinctive that usually covers or reproductions tend to sound cheesy when they’re produced for mass consumption. Now, I will admit that classic rock, particularly 80’s rock, is pretty cheesy to begin with, but that’s some of the fun of it. Add more cheddar and it’s just too much.

Case is point is Glee. Don’t get me wrong, I love Glee, but I’ve always had a hard time when rock numbers grace my TV during that show. Those covers, while great, lack some of the grit I need for classic rock to resonate with me.

I also know that Rock of Ages started as a musical and though I’m a theatre kid, I didn’t like the idea of the combination either. Musical theatre performers have a very distinctive sound vocally and it’s usually not incredibly compatible with rock and roll (with a few exceptions, of course, the rock musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar and Rent – but even those are peppered with classic musical theatre flair in terms of song style). I’d heard some of the cast recordings from the stage show and cringed. As with Glee, massively talented singers – just not my flavor of classic rock.

Photo by flickr user “Broadway Tour.”

Long story short, I was afraid this movie would royally jack the music that’s so nostalgic and special to me.

Some hope for the film blossomed when my dad called me and raved about Rock of Ages, saying that it was really funny and he thought I’d enjoy it. Since then, I’ve been toying with the idea of watching it.

A couple weeks ago at Redbox, Rock of Ages came up on the screen and I decided to take a chance on it. Two nights ago, I bought the movie.

Now, to be completely honest here, my worst nightmare kind of did come true with this movie. Most of the rock music has undergone a pop treatment…but it fits with the rest of the story and it’s so much fun that frankly, I don’t care. This movie wasn’t meant to be an accurate homage to 80’s pop and rock; it’s meant to be a hyperbolic romp through 1987 with a nod to every cliche imaginable. So, I’ll let the music be what it is – something better than Glee or a musical soundtrack, but definitely not tantamount to Def Leppard. Would I ever expect anything to be as good as the original rock? No, so I’ll concede it here.

So, here’s what I especially liked…

Let’s start with the fantastic mash-ups. Who would’ve thought “Jukebox Hero” and “I Love Rock and Roll” would mesh so well together? And whoever decided to mix “Harden My Heart” and “Shadows of the Night” originally for the musical score deserves a cookie. The orchestrations are pretty fantastic, too, ringing with electric guitar and raging drums.

And seriously, who is going to be mad at Mary J. Blige singing anything? She adds some fantastic soul to the tracks.

Though the music can border on cheesy at times, the cast performs the hell out of every song and it’s so much fun. The movie captures the flamboyance of 80’s rock without pushing it too far into that annoying place where people are trying too hard and taking themselves too seriously.

This movie doesn’t take itself seriously, and that’s why it’s successful. You can tell that everyone who was on set from the costume designers to the choreographer (Mia Michaels – major plus in my book!) to the actors embraced the awesome 80’s and worked hard to make it both cheeky and at least remotely believable beneath the hyperbole.

And don’t even get me started on the pole dancing sequences! They cast some beautiful dancers and athletes in this film, so the ladies of Athena’s Club for Gentlemen are both raunchy and massively talented. Mia Michaels did a brilliant job incorporating traditional dance and syncopation into these sequences.

Now, let’s talk actors. My standout performances don’t belong to the leads of the film, but rather two supporting characters who completely steal the show in my opinion.

Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a “reformed” bad girl groupie now married to the mayor of L.A. Because she was burned by the gratuitous, womanizing Stacee Jaxx in her past, she’s now obsessed with bringing him down. Of course she secretly (well, not so secretly) is still under the spell of sex that Stacee casts over women everywhere. Boy bands, eat your hearts out. Stacee’s the real deal.

Photo by flickr user “Thomas Heyman.”

Zeta-Jones has the prim and proper exterior down to a science – and you can tell that she’s all kinds of hot and bothered just under the surface. When she and a hoard of church moms vow to take down Stacee Jaxx with their rendition of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” I laugh hysterically every time. The conviction, the 80’s women’s suits, the hilariously frigid choreography – it’s amazing.

Let’s rewind and talk about Stacee Jaxx, played by Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages. If ever there was a character to embody excess, sleaze, 80’s hair band revelry, and lewdness, it’s Stacee Jaxx. Stacee is a scotch-guzzling, breast-touching, people-smelling, monkey-owning mess of a rock star and you can’t help but love him for it. The first glimpse we get of Stacee, he’s draped in four half-naked women, wearing leather chaps and a jeweled man panty, and completely shit-faced. Rock star gold.

It’s rumored that Tom Cruise has gone a little off his rocker in recent years (ever since his couch-jumping antics on Oprah) – and maybe it’s for the best. Because his portrayal of Stacee Jaxx is one of the best things he’s ever done. He has that hollow, I’ve-done-too-much-drugs, washed up rocker persona down to a “T.” He’s egotistical, completely out there, and dealing with the reality that he can’t get away from himself.

And then, of course, at the end of the film, Stacee is “rehabbed” by love and a new rock collaboration. When we see him in the final scene of the film, he’s sporting a cowboy hat, glasses, and an honest grin (wondering if Tom modeled this reformation after Bret Michaels perhaps?). Tom is successfully able to run the gamut with this character, from grimy gutter ball to redesigned rocker. It’s pretty fantastic to watch.

There’s so much more I could talk about…but then this homely little blog post would turn into a huge rant of love. So, I’ll leave you with this. See this movie. It’s a rockin’ good time!

NOTE: This movie is rated PG-13, but it should definitely be rated R. Just keep that in mind in case you’re sharing.

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