by Laura Tucker
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I can’t adequately describe why, but for some reason, The Rocker reminds of 1983’s Eddie and the Cruisers. It could be the good rock music, or it could be a guy not being able to get past what he once had and aching to get back there.
Interestingly enough, as far as eras go, The Rocker picks up a few years after Eddie and the Cruisers left off. (I won’t include the sequel to Eddie here, as it just didn’t measure up at all to the first.) While Eddie was released in 1983 and had a band member looking back twenty years back to their heyday, Robert “Fish” Fishman (Rainn Wilson) is doing the same in The Rocker, looking back to 1986, thinking of what was and what could have been.
Fish was the drummer of Vesuvius, a local Cleveland band. He and the band had big dreams for themselves. Their manager approached them after a successful appearance in 1986, telling them that they have an offer to open for Whitesnake, but in order to do so, they have to replace Fish with someone’s nephew. The rest of the band objects at first, referring to Fish as “the heart and soul behind the band,” but they just can’t turn down Whitesnake.
In a perfect world, Vesuvius wouldn’t have been successful, but it’s not a perfect world, at least for Fish. Twenty years later, as he’s working in what amounts to a string of go-nowhere jobs, he’s being fired again. He leaves his girlfriend and moves in with his sister (Jane Lynch) and her family. As luck would have it, Fish’s nephew, Matt (Josh Gad), is the keyboardist in a garage band, A.D.D. They have a date to play the prom in a few days and their drummer’s mother pulls him from the band for serving hash brownies and drawing a penis on a grown woman’s face. After too many unsuccessful auditions for a drummer, they turn to Matt’s uncle.
Fish is anything but a perfect fit in this band, but he’s all they have. Not only does he play heavy metal instead of pop/rock and wear clothes like he’s still part of a hair band, before every performance he barfs in his hand and buries it in his pants. He explains that while some people have a lucky charm like a rabbits foot, he “likes to rock a pocket of puke.” In order to get invited back to play with the band, he promises to find them a gig, but gets kicked out of the house, this time by his own sister.
Moving in to the storage room of an Asian restaurant, Fish and his new bandmates practice via a “non-delayed real time virtual network,” aka web cams. Matt’s little sister finds the jam session as it pops up on their home network, and seeing her uncle drumming in the buff, she remarks, “Hello, Youtube.” It’s not the demise as she expected, though, as “The Naked Drummer” catches on with everyone, and soon they are being approached by the smarmy representation of Matchbook Records to record and go on tour.
Just as Eddie and the Cruisers had a great story, great cast and even better music, so does The Rocker. Fish was treated so cruelly by Vesuvius, no matter what kind of goofy ‘do he’s rocking, we want him to do good. His new band is pretty likable, as well. Matt is the quiet nerd you just can’t help but like, Curtis (Teddy Geiger) has a little too much angst at times, but we’ll chalk that up to the artistry of this lead singer. Amelia (Emma Stone) claims smiling is for the weak, but that only tips us off that she’ll be sporting one by the end of the film. Of special mention of the adults in the film is Christina Applegate, who shocks me as the mother to Curtis, as I still think of her as the young girl on Married… With Children.
The music A.D.D. settles on is a great mix of pop and alternative rock that makes not just a great soundtrack, but pretty good standalone music as well. I don’t think I like any of the songs as much as I like “On the Dark Side” from Eddie and the Cruisers, but it’s still pretty good. By contrast, Michael Paré was helped out with his vocals as Eddie by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, but Geiger sings all the lead A.D.D. vocals himself.
Also unlike Eddie and the Cruisers—a drama—The Rocker makes good use of all its comedic stars in Wilson, Applegate, Lynch and Jeff Garlin as Matt’s dad. Everyone gets their share of funny lines here, but as Fish himself says, “Bands share everything—deodorant, songs and chicks.”
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