Rock of Ages

By Cory Haggart

Mailed on June 15, 2012

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Dear Sean Flanigan
Hair Stylist

Dear Sean,

Looking over your past gigs, I see there's an advantage to your profession: you can work on anything. You did sleek close-crops and comb-overs for Mad Men. _You did space-siren curls and post-grunge cheerleader-chic for Joss Whedon's _Serenity and Buffy. With some oh-so-carefully-applied gel, you convinced the world Val Kilmer was gay in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. And then, well, you did Killers. If there's hair, you can go there. And - Judas Priest! - does Rock of Ages have hair!

Lots of it. It flows and falls and curls and folds in cliched, sexy, weird, and even funny ways--all in that order, perfectly echoing the most frequent elements of the movie (also in that same order).

Even better, your work supports the plot itself. When the two lovers, played by Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, fall out with each other and lose themselves, you show it in their locks. When Hough's Sherrie Christian is preparing excitedly for her hot date, her hair is distinctly - and authentically - erect. When Alec Baldwin needs to be gruff and intimidating (which is nigh impossible when you're prancing and singing the whole time), your hairstyle tells me the story. There isn't much time for exposition between ballads (I think more words are sung than spoken), but your hairstyles unobtrusively kept me on track. Imagine if you had worked on Prometheus.

Your craftsmanship even makes up for the mistakes of others. The cinematography is sometimes messy, as if it were actually filmed in a dark, cramped music venue; people's heads always popping into the frame, the angles constrained. The only way I recognized some characters is by curly blond or hairspray brunette.

Even with such faults, it's hard for me to dislike a musical. They play by different rules and carry a necessarily lighter load. Here is a love story, lots of sincerity, a peppering of wry wit, beautiful people, and song and dance. The rest is a grab bag of eternal themes that help pass the time: love vs. trust, greed vs. authenticity, sexual expression vs. repression, innocence vs. experience, hypocrisy vs. itself, and Tom Cruise's penis vs. everyone. Somehow, it all adds up. Even though it's a little lame, Rock of Ages is still a pleasure.

My only pause is that, like your impeccable and multifaceted hairstyles, it's all impossibly dated. The political backdrop is that of a repressed America trying to kill a form of music that threatened with its wildness and purity. It may have felt that way in 1987, but the truth is that Tipper Gore was simply scaring people for political points. Music today is so diverse and fragmented, you can see the real reason why rock was an easy target then: it was pretty homogeneous. No one cares about how controversial rock music is anymore, because no two people could even agree on what rock is.

Today the truly wild stuff is happening on the edges, where genres are mixed up. But when Diego Boneta's character leaves his rock roots for another genre, it is a betrayal, not a potential revolution. Did the filmmakers forget that Danger Mouse mixed the Beatles and Jay-Z eight years ago? What about those Beastie Boys/Led Zeppelin mashups? And that's just the stuff that old people like me know about. We live in far more interesting times, musically, than the movie's characters do.

The problem may be that the movie doesn't really take music seriously--which is strange for a musical about music. Perhaps musicals are best when they are about gangsters, war, cowboys, or Mormons--distinctly unmusical things. _Cabaret _wasn't actually about the cabaret. A musical about music may be a fundamentally compromised premise. It can only turn inward to indulge fantasy instead of connecting with the outside world

So, it's a little dumb. But: fun! There are other places to go if you are really into music. Or really good singing. This one has a drunken baboon and a bare-chested Tom Cruise and some strippers and a Brian Cranston that all show their asses. There is KISS and Bon Jovi and REO Speedwagon. The romantic couples are cute. The ladies, hot. Everyone sings, even if they actually can't. Alec Baldwin is adorable. Paul Giamatti is adorable. Russell Brand was a little tame, but that is probably a good thing. This movie is a tribute to fun that just happens to be in the house of rock.

Yours in hair metal,


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