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August has been described as wearing a “golden crown,” has been said to “rush by like desert rainfall” and “create as she slumbers.” Superstition holds that if the first week of the month is a scorcher, the winter will be long and cold. On a personal note, my father used to refer to the month as “a blistering ballbreaker.” For the eighth month of the year 2008, I would describe it as the funniest month of the year, at least as far as movies are concerned. Having been entertained (bludgeoned) by the big budget Hollywood blockbusters, a series of sidesplitting comedies have been released in the past three weeks that have proven to be a welcome respite.
Pineapple Express was an effective buddy flick that ended up being far smarter than its Cheech and Chong roots, while Tropic Thunder proved to be not only one of the funniest movies of the year, but also one of the smartest with its post modern take on modern cinema and its makers. In the offing is Hamlet 2, a madcap farce about a desperate drama teacher’s attempt to save his own program and reconnect with the arts, driven by a tour de force performance from British comic Steve Coogan. In the meantime, there’s The Rocker, a film that, to my surprise, fills a comedic niche not covered by the other features, as it proves to a sweet ode to hanging on to your dreams at all cost.
Yeah, the theme is far from original — but the execution is enthusiastic as Rainn Wilson, from The Office, gives the title role a certain bounce that reels you in. He’s Robert “Fish” Fishman, drummer for the Cleveland based band Vesuvius who are on the verge of signing a deal with a major record label in the mid 80s. However, the band only gets the deal if they dump Fish. Before you can say “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” — they’ve left the drummer high and dry, which sends him into a tailspin that lasts 20 years.
Fate is not kind to Fish, particularly on the day he finds out that Vesuvius is being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and loses his job and girlfriend. Forced to live in his sister’s attic, he is rescued when Matt (Josh Gad), his nephew, asks him to fill in for their recently suspended drummer, as his band is going to play their senior prom. His fellow musicians, soulful songwriter and lead singer Curtis (Teddy Geiger) and rocker chick with an attitude Amelia (Emma Stone) are less than thrilled — but give in once they realize they have no choice.
What follows is a comedic odyssey of clashing rock cultures. Fish convinces Curtis that his talent can take them all to the top and soon their band ADD, is on their way to stardom, playing small gigs and working their way up the arena ladder. Whereas the dazzled teens are concerned about making music that matters, Fish wants “to party until my nuts catch fire.” While he’s pitching TVs out of hotel windows, they’re wallowing in their angst, unable to fully grasp where their lives are heading.
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The film is hardly a classic — but it does a fine job of tapping into the human elements of its characters in a genuine way. Matt’s lack of confidence and the unspoken affection that exists between Curtis and Amelia are handled with a degree of tact that isn’t often found in films like this. The humor that is generated by these three is very sweet and is perfectly balanced by Wilson’s work which is as broad as the Grand Canyon. His face, contorted to grotesque proportions during his drum work, is a source of constant fascination and as Fish’s body slowly disintegrates because his 40 year old joints can’t support his 20 year old party style, Wilson proves to be a gifted physical comic.
The Rocker will probably not make anyone’s best of list for 2008, but it’s a serviceable comedy that doesn’t have to offend its audience in its quest for laughs. As a bonus, the songs by Chad Fischer are serviceable as well particularly “I’m not Bitter” which is a real toe tapper. More than anything, the film implores us to rock on in pursuit of your dream, even though your knees might give out along the way.
The Rocker is now playing at the Beverly and Savoy Theatres.
Runtime: 1h 42min — Rated PG-13 — Drama