Rock of Ages (and ages and ages)

Monday June 11th 2012

In 2002, a then little-known Russell Brand conceived, wrote and hosted a show called RE:Brand on the satellite channel UK Play, in which he attempted (and occasionally managed) to tackle a variety of cultural taboos. Across the seven-part series he met the leader of the Youth BNP, invited a homeless man to live in his house, went on a dirty weekend with a pensioner and — in the final episode — wanked off a man in the toilets of a Soho pub. While scattershot (and produced during the peak of Brand’s heroin addiction), each of the series’s half-hour episodes contains twenty times more authentic rebellion than his new movie Rock of Ages, adapted from the popular glam rock musical and directed by Hairspray‘s Adam Shankman.

But then again, maybe that’s the point. It seems like every movie I see at the moment (and I’m mainly thinking about The Paperboy here) is trying desperately to be Showgirls. Suddenly camp is Hollywood’s most valuable commodity and, contrary to its supposed hard rock spirit, that’s the one thing Rock of Ages has in spades. Most of the cast (with the screamingly incompetent exception of Mary J. Blige) are working hard for their presumably hefty paycheques, especially Malin Åkerman and Tom Cruise, who pretty much save the day with their gloriously OTT performances. Wet leads Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta — what happened Shankman? You used to own this shit — are soon left in their dust.

As with any camp classic, the film habitually strays into cringe territory and — to paraphrase Journey — quite literally goes on and on and on and on, so much so that it could probably do with the reinstatement of its theatrical interval. Oh, and by the way Hollywood:

I really can’t stress that enough.

There was a great interview with John Waters on Rookie the other day, where he talked about his love-hate relationship with irony. It’s a theme that seems to pervade most musicals nowadays, and doesn’t always work to their advantage. Hairspray (both Shankman’s musical and Waters’s film) knew how to walk the line between cynicism and sincerity without compromising either — Rock of Ages is a little more shaky. When even the film can’t decide whether it loves glam rock or finds it laughable, what are the audience supposed to think? And if it’s all a big joke, where does that leave the ‘serious’ scenes? Am I supposed to care about Stacie Jaxx’s integrity or not? I DON’T GET IT.

As the tagline says, Rock of Ages is nothin’ but a good time. Sometimes, it’s even less.