Scott Rosenbaum’s “The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll” reminds me of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” for a couple reasons. The plots of both films involve a rock star who screwed over a former collaborator to gain fame with stolen songs. Appropriately, the new film seems to be biting off other music movies, as well, particularly “Velvet Goldmine” and “Almost Famous.” But the biggest thing it shares with “Hedwig” over others is the failure to convince us of its fictional artist’s plausibility for enormous success. The quality of music necessary for such iconic popularity among both critics and mainstream record buyers is just not there. And it’s a shame given that Rosenbaum is clearly a fine scholar and appreciator of music history and seems to have intended for his movie to be the next great addition to VH1’s “Movies That Rock” programming.
With “Hedwig,” as much as I love the title character’s own songs, I just can’t buy that Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt) is so notable with his dark glam look and Matthew Sweet voice (or, worse, he occasionally sounds like Weird Al). With “The Perfect Age,” I had too much trouble suspending disbelief that the generic early ’90s metal of The Lost Souls (led by a beefy Keven Zegers looking like Marilyn Manson mixed with later days Tommy Lee) could garner the band “the best-selling debut album of all time.” I assumed the filmmakers hadn’t done the necessary hiring of true music talents to pen the fake band’s tunes. As it turns out, the songwriting is done by actual veteran recording artists, just maybe not the most fitting or gifted ones.
The three songs exclusively written for the film and the fictional rockers were penned by film composer Andrew Hollander (“Waitress”) and relatively unknown rocker Steve Conte, whose biggest notoriety came while guitarist for the 2000s incarnation of The New York Dolls. Now, I don’t want to fault the film for what seems like a budget issue. Not every production can get T-Bone Burnett (“Crazy Heart”), not every director is married to someone like Nancy Wilson (“Almost Famous”) and few filmmakers have enough clout to compile super groups to re-record classic songs and attribute those tunes to the fictional artists, as in “Velvet Goldmine.” But then, Rosenbaum (and co-screenwriter Jasin Cadic) also didn’t have to claim the level of prestige that The Lost Souls allegedly achieved.
They didn’t even technically need to feature any music by the band at all, and the audience would more easily accept the fact that they were a fictional equivalent of Guns N’ Roses (the band with the actual best-selling debut of all time). Never underestimate the power of things unseen and unheard in the movies. Case in point, though this is also another issue I had with the film: after hyping up Jason Ritter’s character as some kind of blues guitar genius while he and Spyder (Zegers) are hanging out at a little blues club filled mainly with old black folks (including Ruby Dee), the two jump on stage with legends like Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin, and Ritter is left, for good measure, off to the side without much focus on his supposed skills. Obviously the audience would rather watch Sumlin’s fingers at work anyway, but it’s also good not to try to fake something you don’t have, and Ritter is likely no great guitar talent, not even enough to pretend.
Great fake bands don’t necessarily make great films (or TV shows), or vice versa, and I recognize that it’s quite hard to pull it off (I’ve never fully accepted the fame of The Wonders, Stillwater or Drive Shaft). Most recently it was a problem for some of the intended comedy of “Get Him to the Greek,” as even parody tunes are best when actually worth listening to (see Spinal Tap, Dewey Cox and The Rutles). The makers of “The Perfect Age” are hopeful enough for the music’s merits that the Lost Souls tunes are available on iTunes and elsewhere, but I don’t see them being big sellers. And for us to believe their context in the film, they’d have to be monster hits. Even if the film itself was otherwise decent and a hit on its own, I wouldn’t bet on that happening now or at the time the film is set.
“The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll” hits theaters and VOD tomorrow.
Recommended If You Like: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”; “Almost Famous”; “Rock My World” (aka “Global Heresy”)