There is this undeniable, crazy-intense talent that I think Rainn Wilson has yet to unleash on us, that goes beyond his hilarious and iconic portrayal of Dwight Schrute on The Office. Thanks to smaller roles that he's had, including his creepy character on Six Feet Under, I've had faith that Wilson is not a one-note actor, and that he possesses the tools to take part in a variety of genres. So, I was looking forward to his first time out as a comedic lead in The Rocker. And while the movie is far from perfect and not the laugh-riot that will launch him into major stardom, it's an excellent start.
What strikes me most about this movie is how good-natured it is underneath its gimmicky concept. If I had some teenagers to entertain this weekend, this is the kind of movie I'd love to watch with them. It's hard not to compare the overall spirit of this funny high school tale with that of other recent Summer comedies, and the biggest difference to me is that it has a warm and fuzzy center (despite the groin pain it causes the main character).
To see what I mean by "groin pain" and why I think The Rocker is a pleasant addition to this Summer's comedies,
The Rocker is a feel-good movie, and I think some people might take that as code for lame. But I was actually relieved to leave a comedy in an emotional space that was, well, good. The movie opens in the '80s at a concert where the heavy metal band Vesuvius is bringing down the house. Robert "Fish" Fishman (Wilson) is the drummer whose performance high is quickly killed when the band's label insists that they replace him. His buddies in the band, including lead singer Lex (played by the always hilarious Will Arnett in giant hair and eyeliner) and bassist Trash (Bradley Cooper doing an amazing Slash impression) don't bat an eye before kicking Fish out and then, to Fish's dismay, rocket to mega-stardom.
Years later, the out-of-work Fish is persuaded to join his nephew Matt's high school band, and it's not exactly smooth sailing. Fish is middle-aged, unhinged, and more interested in being "rock stars" than his teen bandmates. As the movie progresses, Fish actually helps the band make a name for itself, and though he is an unlikely source of wisdom, Fish ends up coming to terms with his own failures and immaturities by helping his bandmates through their teenage issues.
Here's the bad news: there is often way too much time that goes by without a good laugh. But when they do score one, it's genuinely funny. Christina Applegate is especially believable as a single mom, and despite the fact that Fish is such a spaz, I was cheering for these two to get together. Fish's little heart-to-hearts with the kids are mostly contrived, but all the actors are so freaking likable it's hard not to forgive the script a little. Wilson also takes one for the team and endures a steady stream of physical assaults — including many hits to the groin — and it's funny about two-thirds of the time, I'd estimate.
Most of all, however, I realized about three-fourths of the way through The Rocker that there had been zero blow job jokes. No — seriously. And then I noted that no one had said "mangina," not once. And while those kinds of jokes have their place and have made us all chuckle at some point, I have to say it was refreshing to see a whole other group of comedians with a whole new set of jokes attempting to make us laugh.
I can't give this movie a whole lot of stars, but I genuinely appreciate the effort and left the theater with a smile.
Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox