John Stockwell has been in TV and movies since the 1980s. This spring saw the release of his interracial teen romance Crazy/Beautiful, which opened to mostly positive reviews. Today Rock Star opens, and its strongest point, aside from charismatic star Mark Wahlberg, is Stockwell’s script.
R for sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll
Almost Famous, a more serious treatment of the same idea.
Rock Star is a situation comedy. It’s what film historian Bruce Kawin calls “high concept plus a hook.” In other words, the film is easily summarized — “the rise and fall of a heavy metal rock star...” — and an interesting angle is chosen from which to tell the story — “...the ‘rock star’ is actually just a fan, recruited to sing for his favorite band.”
Wahlberg plays Chris Cole, the most devoted fan of Steel Dragon. He and his girlfriend Emily (Jennifer Aniston) spend their spare time studying the band, making outfits, learning the music, and promoting Chris’ “tribute” band, Blood Pollution. A twist of fate leads Chris to be called on to join Steel Dragon as their new lead singer.
The situation itself is funny, and it lends itself to all sorts of workable jokes. Naturally, heavy metal hair, makeup and dress get tweaked. Expectations about Chris’ home life are defeated in joke after joke. The whole concept of hero worship, of being a “huge fan” of rock stars (or anything, for that matter), makes for some of the film’s more pointed and subtle humor.
The first hour plays beautifully. Funny lines, a clever story, and a nice quick pace show exactly what good mainstream moviemaking can be.
Bait and Switch
The first half of the movie ends with a sudden and confusing change of tone. A party turns into a sexy dance, which turns into a drunken orgy. My audience stopped laughing, and as the film faded to black, it was hard to tell what the movie was going to do next. Were we supposed to be shocked? Ashamed? Enthralled? There was even a confused laugh from the woman next to me.
The morning after, the film slows down and becomes more serious, on the verge of depressing. There are still occasional light moments, but now it’s time for The Conflict, as required by law in Hollywood movies.
All the standard rock-movie conflicts are thrown into the mix. The girlfriend leaves. The hero falls into the sordid rock ’ n’ roll lifestyle. Spats break out between the band members, and their popularity begins to fall.
Stockwell and Herek are aware of this change of tone. The last song in the film contains a lyric that I happened to catch: “you stay for a drama when you paid for a comedy.”
The fall from grace isn’t all bad. The film’s message (“be yourself”) is explored and mulled over in the second half. Scenes that played too long, on reflection turned out to be important evidence in support of the message. Storytelling requires a certain logic, and Stockwell’s is rock solid.
The fact that there is a message doesn’t make the second half play faster. But afterwards, leaving the theater, the slowness seems more appropriate. It makes the whole film seem better constructed, less pointless. Instead of empty calories, we end up having had a little nourishment as well.
I confess that, on reflection, I really liked Rock Star because of its structure. I admire screenwriter Stockwell for the fantastic script, and I’d like to see him work with Harold Ramis, whose recent comedies (Groundhog Day, Bedazzled) are funny and well structured.
But I don’t dare rate Rock Star as highly as I liked it. I recognize that the casual moviegoer might find second half unpalatable and boring. If you’re just looking for a quick cheap high (and who isn’t at a movie called Rock Star), you may leave only half satisfied.