Depending on who you ask, this weekend's Rock of Ages is either a schlocky disaster or actually kind of fun. What it definitely isn't, though, is a traditional musical, made up entirely of old 80s rock songs, and featuring so much tongue-in-cheek camp that a lot of people are wondering if director Adam Shankman was even taking it seriously. But for fans of movie musicals, it's possibly a sign of something good going forward, of the popularity of TV shows like Glee and American Idol actually leading to a resurgence of movie musicals.
But can not-that-great movies like Rock of Ages actually bring back movie musicals? Or do we have to wait for something fancy like this December's Les Miserables to do that? Katey and Kristy hopped on to chat to ask that very question, and to have Kristy help Katey figure out if Rock of Ages really was worth seeing, just for the sake of the greater good of musicals. Check out what they learned below.
KATEY: So Kristy, I get the feeling that Rock of Ages isn't exactly the revival of the movie musical that I've been waiting for. Would you recommend a musical-lover like myself even see it?
KRISTY: You know, I'm deeply conflicted about Rock of Ages, because it is by no means a good movie. It has major pacing issues that make parts of it a total slog. But then, it also has a lot of incredibly entertaining moments that made me gasp and laugh. I couldn't help but think that when it gets cut down for TV it'd be a much easier to enjoy movie.
KATEY: Sounds a whole lot like Mamma Mia!, which is a godawful movie, but at least a musical that a ton of people saw.
KRISTY: Yeah, but that movie seemed to really understand and even relish in its limitations. This one...I kept debating whether the filmmakers were in on the joke or not.
KATEY: Well, Adam Shankman made the completely sublime movie musical Hairspray, which honestly made me feel like musicals could be a viable movie genre again. So I feel like he at least gets how musicals can be completely ridiculous but also great.
KRISTY: Yeah, but for me a major obstacle of Rock of Ages are its two romantic leads, Julianne Hough and Deigo Boneta. They are just so wholesome and dull that they pull the whole insane energy of the picture down a few notches.
KATEY: Alright, so to expand out the conversation from Rock of Ages, which I'm still not totally sure I'll ever see. We've got two major musicals this year, between this one and Les Miserables, which pretty much could not be any more different. And of course on TV we've got Glee both perverting the idea of what a musical is and making people more interested in them. Do you think we're inching our way toward a musical revival here? Or this just the millionth time in the last 10 years we've hoped musicals are coming back, and they never really have?
KRISTY: Well, I feel like Les Mis will be the real test of that question, because while Rock of Ages is a musical, it's really ponying pretty hard for the Glee crowd--both the director and composer have done Glee eps--and it is jockeying for a wide, low-brow audience. But Les Mis, it's got a complicated story, and while it has stars, they're not doing what we typically pay to see them do. Jackman and Crowe will not be waging any crazy stunt-laden battles; Hathaway won't be cute and quirky and falling in love.
KATEY: But, wait a second. Don't lowbrow musicals still count? What stuff like Rock of Ages and Glee kind of suggest to me is that musicals might really be more like what they were in the 30s-- the totally populist, mainstream movie option, in the way Transformers is now. I don't really want to see Rock of Ages, but as someone who loves musicals, I'm glad it exists. Does that make sense?
KRISTY: I have nothing against lowbrow musicals, I just don't think Rock of Ages doing well will spur a resurgence the same way Les Mis doing well would. It's just that Rock of Ages doesn't have much to say.
KATEY: Yeah, I don't think it's so much that the movie itself says anything-- in the same way Glee is dumb dumb dumb. But the part of me that just straight-up loves seeing people dance and sing is glad that both are happening, and that there's clearly an audience for them. Whereas Les Mis will basically get the straightforward, we-like-fancy-movies crowd that saw Chicago 10 years ago-- and only if it expands wider can it really change anything.
Alright, here's my bold statement: Rock of Ages has the potential to do more for the movie musical than Les Mis. Go ahead, tell me I'm crazy!
KRISTY: I'm intrigued. Go on.
KATEY: Well, basically what I was just saying-- if a ton of people see Rock of Ages who wouldn't normally see a musical, that could create more demand for musicals. And that demand could make Les Mis a bigger hit, actually-- or it could just lead to more movies that are ridiculous and shallow and maybe also jukebox musicals, but at least have singing and dancing in movies, which is all I ever want. At bare minimum, I think the movie adaptation of the Once musical-- which of course, is based on a movie-- is inevitable. And maybe also finally the Wicked movie they've been saying they'd make for 10 years.
KRISTY: Wow. I hadn't even thought of a Once adaptation of the adaption. You're blowing my mind right now. But seriously, I hope you're right. But having seen Rock of Ages, if people like it I don't know that they'll want anything other than jukebox musicals, with songs they already know and a plot that doesn't challenge them at all.
KATEY: Ugh, and that's the nightmare version of what could happen. Though then again, as much as I protest, I saw Mamma Mia! twice. So clearly jukebox musicals don't bother me as much as they ought to.
KRISTY: The weird thing about Rock of Ages is the way it defangs the Sunset Strip, playing down the sex--there's a dry humping scene that is too bizarre to talk about--there's no drugs, and the rock 'n' roll is all performed through a Glee-ful lens.It left me so confused. It's like John Waters edited for PAX.
KATEY: Yeah, that might be where we're headed with musicals. But I might take defanged, ridiculous musicals over none at all.
So, one last bit of advice I need from you. For people like me who love musicals and want to see them succeed-- should we see Rock of Ages? Or should we just cling to my cockamamie theory that it will boost the genre even without us seeing it?
KRISTY: I think if you want to see more musicals, you should see Rock of Ages. Then you should see Les Mis. I stand by the idea that buying a movie ticket is your way to vote on what you want Hollywood to make. And while Rock of Ages is a mess, it is a lot of fun, and I've been mumbling the songs from it for days now. In the end, even with its faults, I'm with you: I'd rather have Rock of Ages in theaters than no musicals at all.
KATEY: Yay! I'm glad that somehow, Tom Cruise in a crazy wig is a force for good in this world. And when Les Mis comes out we can revisit this conversation and see if the world is taking us anywhere good.