Rock of Ages can be considered as a flop in several different fronts: the plot is clichéd and predictable, and the script is simply sub-par. However, the film offers other pleasures: this is a really fun movie to watch if you are into 80s hair metal. Nostalgia plays an important part here, as the musical numbers are likely to make even the toughest rock fan shed a tear at the memory of the good old days in which rock music was king in the radio airwaves and not a rare occurrence, as happens today.
The film tries to evoke the era of glam metal, a music genre whose raison d’être was to shock its audience, to cause a stir in the midst of the bland pop cultural panorama of the time. Rock of Ages is far from shocking its audience, being as it is a safe commercial bet. This was to be expected. Sadly, it also misses the chance to take full advantage of one of glam rock’s most interesting features: its self-conscious fabrication of a simultaneously outrageous, fun, irreverent and frequently ridiculous façade. With their over-the-top alpha-male shtick combined with often androgynous looks and theatrical stage antics, bands like Mötley Crüe, Poison, Kiss, Twisted Sister or Cinderella were probably aware of their own performativity and even ludicrousness. Rock of Ages works at its best in the scarce moments in which it pokes fun at the world it depicts. One of such moments is Tom Cruise and Malin Akerman’s rendition of Foreigner’s “I wanna know what love is”, a heart-felt ballad whose emotional content about the search for true love is visually subverted by the rock star’s urgency for quick sex with unknown women who throw themselves at his feet. Another one is the tough-looking Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand singing “Can’t fight this feeling” as declaration of requited gay love. These musical numbers make fun of the songs and their context openly, and they happen to be some of the most enjoyable moments in the film. Paradoxically, they also turn out to be the most accurate in capturing the mood of the period, even more so than the rest of the film is. The sexist lyrics of this kind of music tried to deny the homosocial tendencies that its image screamed out loud. 80s hair metal was not called like that for nothing: these bands’ stylized look comprised make-up, spandex and a lot of hairspray. Similarly, many of these bands’ power ballads were not really about love, but rather about lust. A (not so close) reading of their lyrics reveals that the film’s ironic take on these songs turn out to be not so ironic after all and much more spot on in the portrayal of glam metal’s playful spirit than other musical numbers which take the songs at face value. Such is the case of Julianne Hough’s sweet rendition of Extreme’s “More than words”, a ballad which seems to deal with true love but which is actually urging women to have sex with their man if they want to keep him. Rock of Ages misses the opportunity of unpackaging – and poking fun at – this and many other meanings embedded in these songs, resulting in a somewhat bland musical which not even Tom Cruise’s best impersonation of Axl Rose can keep afloat.