Screenwriters: Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky
Starring: Rainn Wilson (interview), Christina Applegate, Emma Stone
Running time: 102 mins
The Full Monty director Peter Cattaneo knows a thing or two about heartwarming comedy dramas that chart a group's rise to glory and self-respect. His latest film The Rocker clearly had the potential to be as successful as his tale of male strippers, but sadly throws in too many surreal and slapstick moments in an unnecessary attempt to force humour. This proves to be the difference between a decent film and a great film.
The story kicks off in 1986 when Robert 'Fish' Fishman is ousted from his role as drummer in rock band Vesuvius just as they land their first big record deal. Twenty years later, Fish is working in a call centre while his former bandmates are rolling in glory. However, a trip to his sister's house ends up in him helping out her son's high school band A.D.D. for a gig, as they are in desperate need of a drummer. Despite the age difference and numerous artistic differences, Fish and his new group soon begin to swim in success and head towards a showdown with the mighty Vesuvius.
The Rocker functions as a star vehicle for the comedic talents of Rainn Wilson - so great in the US version of The Office as Dwight Schrute (the equivalent of Gareth). The role is hardly a great departure, as Fish is teeming with acerbic one-liners and demonic, embittered glares and scowls in the Jack Black vein. Yet these accentuated mannerisms do not rest well with the emotionally authentic story at the core of the film, about a man overcoming rejection by daring to pursue his fading dreams.
Similarly, the surreal slapstick element is painfully shoehorned into the narrative at frequent intervals, as if the filmmakers were looking for snappy footage to whack into the trailer. Hence we witness Fish running alongside a van driven by his former Vesuvius bandmates motoring along at 60mph, Fish banging his head on various objects, Fish randomly swallowing a fly, Fish falling through a hole, Fish falling off a house... you get the idea. It's a real shame, as Wilson nails the dramatically poignant moments so well.
Despite the pointless pratfalls, the narrative's engaging structure, progression and characterisation ensure that A.D.D.'s journey is easy and rewarding to follow. The rollercoaster relations between Fish and the band's lead singer Curtis, also reeling from a traumatic rejection, is fascinating to watch unfold and never descends into saccharine sentimentality. Christina Applegate is slightly wasted in an underdeveloped MILF role, but numerous characters such as a pretentious video director and a sleazy record company representative are sturdy entertainment.
A.D.D. themselves are portrayed by a talented trio of young actors, with Teddy Geiger, Josh Gad and particularly Emma Stone deserving the plaudits. But one can't help but feel sympathy that the film's glaring flaws doesn't rest at their feet, as the uneven tone represented by Fish's cartoon-like calamities often overshadows their sterling work.
"It's never too late to rock," Curtis tells Fish when he encounters the inevitable self-doubt before a big comeback performance. Wise words indeed, but if only it wasn't too late to go back and remould and re-edit The Rocker into the film it could have been.
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