I have never once understood the dislike for this film. Maybe it’s because it’s a “Jukebox Musical”. Maybe it’s because of the differences the film has to the Broadway show. Maybe it’s the cast. Honestly, I don’t really know.
Rock of Ages, in short, is a film about “a small town girl and a city boy meet on the Sunset strip, while pursuing their Hollywood dreams.” (Thank you, IMDB and Journey.) Simple enough. The cast includes Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta as the leads, with Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta Jones, Mary J. Blige, Malin Akerman, Paul Giamatti, and Bryan Cranston. Literally an all-star cast.
The songs in the film are all 70s and 80s rock music. The soundtrack is amazing. I dare you to watch this film and not sing along to at least one of the songs. The costumes, the sets, all of it is done so well. This film, in my opinion, is not meant to be taken seriously. It’s campy. It’s fun. It uses music that audiences already know and love.
I can understand, I suppose, from a musical adaptation stand point, how this film may be disliked. It’s always hard to please both musical theater audiences and movie theater audiences. Few movie musicals do that. There were plenty of changes made from the stage version of this to the film version. First and foremost, anything that would have made the film “R” rated was removed in favor of a more “family-friendly” film. Although, I feel like this film is family-friendly if the children in the family are teenagers. Anyway, that doesn’t bother me so much. Tom Cruise’s interpretation of Stacee Jax is vastly different from the stage version. The stage version of Stacee Jax is worth looking up, by the way (and then look up Tom Cruise mentioning to Chris Hardwick, who originated the role in Los Angeles, that they have played the same character and then see Chris Hardwick get SO EXCITED). Cruise’s interpretation of the character, I feel, works very well for the film. He’s eccentric in a different way than his stage counterpart. There’s still humor to the character, which is crucial to the film. And, although I do not like Tom Cruise as an actor (or a person. I’ve never met him, but I don’t like what I hear) I do enjoy his performance in this film. I think I enjoy his performance because, much like in Tropic Thunder, I forget that it is Tom Cruise playing the part. He very much becomes the character of Stacee Jax.
I want to take a minute to talk about Catherine Zeta Jones in this film. This is the second movie musical she has done (the first being Chicago), and I am so happy that she chose to do this one. If you recall, this was, in a way, a comeback film for her. She had taken a break from acting to receive treatment for her Bipolar disorder and to help her husband through cancer. And, honestly, I think this is a great comeback film. When she breaks into Pat Benetar’s rock anthem “Hit Me (With Your Best Shot)” it is fucking amazing. The choreography is great (with some of it being borrowed from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video). It comes off as ridiculous, as you have these church-going women doing very 1980s dance moves. (The woman in the polka-dot jumpsuit is my fav.) In fact, I’m just going to post the song for you to watch because I could talk about it forever, but I need you, the reader, to watch it.
*Honorable mention for Bryan Cranston as Mayor Mike Whitmore, who is cheating on his wife, Patricia (Catherine Zeta), with his secretary, in a church.*
Moving on. Let’s talk about Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin. This is a story line that I am happy they kept in from the original Broadway musical. *Spoiler alert* The characters of Dennis and Lonny end up together. And it is beautiful. Weirdly enough, Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin have chemistry. They are funny separately and double as funny together. Using the song “Can’t Fight This Feeling” in order to reveal each character’s feelings is genius. It’s handled with care, it’s funny and enjoyable, and sweet at the same time. Side note: I’m aware that Alec Baldwin hates this film, and that he only did this film to work with Tom Cruise. However, he still gave a good performance in the film. So, he can hate it, if he wants, because I fucking love it.
TJ Miller has a wonderful, short cameo that cracks me up every single time. Again, I’m going to post it here. Because I love it and I want you to love it, too.
Also, Constantine Maroulis, the original Drew from the Broadway show, has a cameo as a record producer, where they let him hit all the best notes in the song “Here I Go Again”.
This really is a film that benefits from its cast and their chemistry. They all seem like they’re having so much fun, which, in turn, makes the audience enjoy the film that much more.
Rock of Ages is a parody. When first released, I don’t know that audiences understood that, which makes me so sad because it is a good parody. It’s a good parody of life in Hollywood. It’s a good parody of the Sunset Strip at the time. It’s a good parody of rock and roll. At the same time, the film emphasizes how much this music means to those that love it. And, that is so important.