So I’m going to assume that everyone who had any inclination to see Rock of Ages has by this point already done so.
I love musicals. I love 80’s rock. This is a shoe-in, right? Well… not completely. It’s not that it isn’t fun, it’s definitely that. It’s just that it feels a little, I don’t know, superficial? Maybe that goes hand in hand with the Reagan era aesthetic. Style over substance was kind of the mantra of 80’s hair metal, to the point that the alternative and grunge scenes of the early 90’s (whatever your personal opinion of them may be) ultimately formed as a spasm of reaction to its hollowness. On the other hand, as I mentioned, it’s still fun. The unashamed machismo of the genre, unburdened by the social awareness or irony of earlier decades, probably accounts for part of its enduring popularity. This still creates problems though.
I have nothing against the basic premise of a “jukebox musical,” a musical that repurposes existing popular music for its libretto rather than composing its own original score. I understand that the production of any film or stage show is a financially risky endeavor, and using a known quantity for your soundtrack helps to hedge your bets. It becomes that much more difficult though to craft a workable story around the narrative constraints of your music, which in this case is made up of songs composed independent of one another with preexisting lyrical context. Some scripts make this work. Across the Universe is an excellent example of this, and even Mamma Mia makes pretty much all the music suit the story. Rock of Ages, by contrast, doesn’t really have a good handle on this. The song numbers feel more like jerky music video breaks and seem to exist more for their own sake than anything else. Also, since just about every song is a full-belt ballad of some kind the movie loses a sense of pacing energy-wise, and the absence of any real “showstopper” makes it hard to track the story’s arc. The script is painfully bland, though maybe criticism on formula is unwarranted given the already cited superficiality of the subject matter. All in all it just comes off as sort of narcissistic and self-congratulatory. Yet, the film’s own blissful ignorance of this imbues it with a quirky charm. If you’re a fan of either musicals or hair metal, as I am, I can say you at least won’t want your money back. Then again, if you are either of those things chances are I don’t have to convince you.
And to answer one final question, if I have a favorite 80’s ballad that wasn’t included in the film it would probably be this one…
Now, to this evening’s second presentation. Without further introduction, Pixar’s Brave.
I’ve seen a number of reviews of this movie over the last day or so that assert Brave doesn’t stand up with Pixar’s other intellectual children’s fare.
These reviews are false. Do not truck with their foolishness.
I honestly don’t know what else the nay-sayers are looking for. Some of them say that it isn’t as intelligent and thoughtful as say Wall-E or Up, and while I’ll grant that maybe Brave doesn’t hit the same number of macro-level beats as the aforementioned power pair I think that some people might be missing the forest for the trees. The devil is in the details with this one, and there are a lot of them. Brave has theme and metaphor coming out of its ginger wazoo, working all the right angles on mother-daughter relationships, coming of age, and dialog on gender roles. Taken together with absolutely gorgeous visuals, a beautiful soundtrack, some mad cap humor, and a fantastic voice cast with awesome Scottish accents, Brave is all of the good things in life. Visual storytelling has always been Pixar’s stock and trade, but they’re really coming back to form with this one and putting nose to the grindstone (Merida’s hair alone…) The soundtrack is a masterwork of place, ambiance, and powerful energy from Patrick Doyle, with features by the talented Julie Fowlis and the ever-popular Mumford and Sons. Finally, hardworking performances from (deep breath) Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd and let’s face it the entire gosh-darned cast really deliver the goods.
It’s really the little things that really make Brave work as a tight kid-friendly adventure story with chewy material for older audiences. Keep your brain turned on for this one. If you don’t have something to talk about when the lights come up then you weren’t paying attention. Maybe we’ve just become so jaded that feminist narratives have become a stock trope, but I don’t believe it. It’s a rollicking good time. Bring your kids. Bring your girlfriend. Just get yourself in the theater!
Oh, and remember what I said about the soundtrack? Roll it hard, kids!