Rock ‘n’ roll dramas don’t have it easy – they are permanently walking a tightrope above a long-way-down precipice. Make it all the way across, and you have “Almost Famous,” slip and its 2001’s “Rockstar.” Scott Rosenbaum’s “The Perfect Age Of Rock ‘N’ Roll” may occasionally stumble into lead-footed plotting, but the cast and an unexpectedly poignant conclusion rescue the film from drifting into obscurity.
We open on washed-up rockstar Spyder (Kevin Zegers) recounting his tale of woe to a young journalist (Lukas Haas) – sound familiar? This time though, the dynamic is turned on its head and we know from the get-go there will be no happy ending. Haas’s journo is there to get the goods on a supposed third Lost Soulz album, a band that Spyder was the lead singer and driving force of. After a major hit first album and a sophomore flop, Spyder kicks up dust back home, attempting to rile former songwriter and now music teacher Eric (Jason Ritter) out of obscurity.
Eric agrees, under several conditions which boil down to Spyder, his band and manager Rose (Taryn Manning) taking a trip down Route 66 with Peter Fonda behind the wheel. Fonda plays, well, the character you’d expect the 60s icon to play – a man’s who’s seen plenty, been around some and now just wants to kick back and enjoy what’s left of the ride. He fills those shoes perfectly – meanwhile, the road trip forces Spyder and Eric to reexamine a formerly broken relationship until Rose comes between the two men.
‘Perfect Age’ centers on Spyder, and Zegers clearly appreciates time away from “Gossip Girl” and the variety of direct-to-video independent thrillers he’s racked up. Ritter and Manning are solid but Spyder overshadows and drives the film, with Zegers selling an imperfect transformation from petulant rock god to alcoholic burn-out, with some road bumps in between. For once, the old-age makeup doesn’t distract from the performance, with the toll Spyder’s lifestyle has taken devastating both physically and emotionally. Most surprising, however, is that ‘Perfect Age’ doesn’t feature wall-to-wall music and performances like you might expect, but that plays to the film’s strength, since the few live sets we are privy to are all the more effective in conveying the chemistry between Spyder and Eric, as singer and songwriter. Rosenbaum seeks to explore the duality between settling down and flaming out and Zegers and Ritter effectively play two halves of the same person.
The film moves quickly as the crew nears Los Angeles with a few stops along Route 66. The familiar finale is unexpected in how honestly it addresses the tragedy of permanently driving away your loved ones – the final moments of the film are tinged with genuine regret and the last shot of Zegers is a literal interpretation of a too-personal hell. By committing to that final stroke, “The Perfect Age of Rock ‘N’ Roll” rises above the plainclothes road trip/rock ‘n’ roll drama and cements itself as a largely memorable, if not great, film. [B-]