The story is about wide-eyed small-town girl Sherrie and city boy Drew, who meet on the Sunset Strip circa 1987 while pursuing their Hollywood dreams. Serving as the sonic backdrop for their relationship is glee-infused hits of 1980s superstars Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Poison, Whitesnake and more.
The movie also stars Mary J. Blige, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Russell Brand and Tom Cruise, the latter as Stacee Jaxx, a rock star who’s an amalgamation of Axl Rose, David Lee Roth and Jim Morrison.
And we dare anyone to suppress at least a chuckle at the sight of Cruise tattooed, clad in leather claps and a codpiece, rising out of a pile of scantily clad and exhausted female groupies.
Adam Shankman, the openly gay director of the film, known for his work on the film adaptation of “Hairspray” and as a judge on “So You Think You Can Dance,” said the movie is meant to be a fun comedy that everyone can sing along to.
“It’s a party and a piece of wonderful silliness and entertainment,” he said. “It’s not there to do anything else. It’s the point of the show and it was important to me that that be the point of the movie. In ‘Hairspray,’ you have a movie about a heavyset girl who ends segregation. This has none of that. This has the sweetness of don’t compromise yourself and nothing matters without love and you can’t kill self-expression. The hardest thing about a jukebox musical is that you are using songs that were never intended for a character and trying to stick them with some level of honesty, if not irony or emotion, in a character’s mouth and make them feel as true as possible. Largely, I was guided by that premise.”
Shankman said that for the sake of better storytelling, he did make some changes to the script from the musical, which is where the character of Patricia Whitmore (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) comes in: She’s a crusading politician’s wife who is leading a Parents Music Resource Center-styled group of housewives — who were responsible for getting “Parental advisory explicit lyrics” labels on albums in 1985 — and one of the main antagonists in the film.
“I added the political realities of the time, with the Tipper Gore element,” Shankman said. “The moms are right out of a documentary called ‘The Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years.’”
Shankman also decided to amp up the same-sex attraction between characters Dennis Dupree and Lonny Barnett, played by Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, respectively. He said the two weren’t nearly as prone to man-on-man action in the stage version of the show.
“Very strangely, the creators of the play had said to me that they were never, in theory, gay. They said it was the ultimate bromance. I said, ‘Well, being gay is the ultimate bromance.’ They said, ‘No, they’re just like good friends.’ I said they can’t sing ‘I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore’ about friendship. No one tries to fight a feeling about friendship. You can’t do this halfway. Wouldn’t that have been weird if they sang this song and gave each other a high five? That relationship is so sweet. With Alec I basically said, ‘You’re a guy that started a rock club in the 1960s and you’ve been getting stoned for so long that you didn’t realize that you were gay.’”
Aside from the fun of watching Brand and Baldwin sing a power ballad to each other and share a lip lock, not to mention a borderline crazy performance by Cruise, music fans will also have a good time picking out the various ’80s rock stars making cameos in the film.
“[The producers] asked me if I would be interested and I said, ‘I am if it doesn’t pull you out of the movie,’” Shankman said. “Let me see if there’s an area where I can do that where it felt appropriate.”
Beyond the cameos, Shankman also didn’t make the bands into caricatures.
“I had a very interesting thing happen. [Poison lead singer] Bret Michaels came to the set and I had just shot ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ and put it together. He watched it and he just grabbed me and hugged me and said, ‘Thank you for not making fun of us.’ That was nice and that meant a lot to me. This was an era that does a great job of making fun of itself.”
“Rock of Ages” opens in theaters nationwide today. For more information, visit rockofagesmovie.warnerbros.com.