prey for rock and roll

2003

Directed by: Alex Steyermark
Written by: Cheri Lovedog and Robin Whitehouse

It’s not difficult to figure out what experiences Gina Gershon drew upon for her role as ageing rocker chick Jacki in this grunge rock ‘n’ roll fantasy.

While she isn’t a rock star in real life (her interesting series Rocked notwithstanding) she is an entertainer approaching that age when women in Hollywood are generally put out to pasture.The next generation of long-legged, young talent is coming through and good projects for older women are few and far between.

Prey for Rock & Roll examines the mid-life crisis of a character who realises she has slogged away in the same thankless industry for decades with only glimpses of the success she craves. Should she just continue on until she drops, or give up before she becomes a joke, a walking cliché of the rocker who lives and dies for their art?

Jacki is the lead singer of an all-girl band, The Clam Dandys, who play the usual traps and haunts around LA looking for their big break. She’s come from a rough background (as has seemingly every woman in this film) and isn’t the type to be tied down, though she’ll happily sleep with men or women. Alongside her are band mates Tracy (Drea de Matteo) as a trust-fund girl rebelling from her conservative upbringing through substance abuse, and lesbian lovers Sally (Shelly Cole) and Faith (Lori Petty), drummer and lead guitarist respectively. These guys are so cute and seem genuinely in love, so the ordeals that the film puts the couple through seem all the more harsh and painful as a result.

The Clam Dandys are negotiating a deal with a small-time record producer, the closest they’ve ever come to a recording contract. After twenty years of earning thirteen bucks a night some nights Jacki is about ready for a change, some kind of catalyst that’ll either propel her into superstardom or convince her to get her ass out of the biz altogether. Problem is, she has no idea what she would do if she weren’t playing music.

When we listen to the music the Clam Dandys play we’re not that surprised that the girls haven’t made it. While the songs themselves aren’t awful, they’re not great either, the kind of stuff you would listen to in a bar over a beer and then forget about ten minutes later. Gershon for her part, singing the lead vocals, really delivers the songs with the right amount of over-earnestness that the melodramatic songwriting deserves. It’s clever, because I honestly believe they wrote the music exactly the way they wanted it; good enough to support the movie, but not good enough to suggest that these girls could be anything but what they are, a struggling bar band.

Sally has a brother, Animal (Marc Blucas), who just got out of jail and has come to live with her. He beat their stepfather to death with a baseball bat after discovering him on top of Sally when she was a teenager. He went into the slammer, spent ten years there and now emerges, a thirty-year-old virgin with muscles, tattoos and survival instincts but seemingly not much else. Almost immediately Animal starts to hit on Jacki, which despite giving her a few laughs over their age difference actually serves to make her feel sexy and filled with life again.

After setting up this rag-tag group of characters, the film then proceeds to knock them all down, with varying degrees of horror. We find out Jacki was abused in her childhood. Tracy starts almost killing herself with the drugs and booze. There’s a horrific rape scene and the subsequent well-conceived revenge. Better than dobbing the guy into the cops any day.

But the script doesn’t stop there. After heaping misery upon misery upon the girls, with only some musical sequences and snatches of sardonic humour for brief respite, the last ten minutes holds the deepest sorrow of all; a random, senseless tragedy that makes all of them question who they are and where they’re going. Except Animal of course, who has nowhere else to go.

If it weren’t for the wit, warmth and palpable love between these characters I think the compounded tragedy of the film would be unbearable. Gina Gershon shows once again that she’s capable of outstanding acting when given the right character to play, her work here as Jacki is probably even better than her excellent work in Bound.

As for the supporting cast, Drea de Matteo’s Tracy is not that far of a stretch from her drugged out white girl role on The Sopranos. Marc Blucas (of Buffy fame) spends a lot of the time lingering in doorways and for the vast majority of the film there’s not a hell of lot to distinguish him from the doorframe in terms of acting. Lori Petty cruises comfortably with one of those off-beat characters she loves to play. I don’t think playing guitar-goddess Faith was too difficult for her, but she’s clearly having so much fun miming her guitar work on stage. (Just on a personal note, it is about time she satisfied all her legions of lesbian fans by playing a lesbian!)

Besides Gina Gershon though, my favourite is relative newcomer Shelly Cole (formerly of Gilmore Girls) who not only looks like she could be a member of Sleater-Kinney and pounds those drums like nothing else, but also handles her emotional scenes like a seasoned performer, never once letting us feel too sorry for her. With Gershon she helps carry the film and a lot of the harshest scenes fall on her capable shoulders. It would have been nice to have more chemistry between her and Blucas as brother and sister, but Animal was largely underwritten and two-dimensional which seemed to make the relationship very difficult for the actors to portray.

Prey for Rock & Roll was co-written by Cheri Lovedog based on her stage play of the same name and is reportedly semi-autobiographical. If so, if this is the life of your average struggling muso in LA, then I’m glad I managed to shake my childhood dreams of being a rock star. I’m not sure how worth it this life really is if it involves drugs, murder, rape and trauma every step of the way. But to Jacki this way of life is home, and by the film’s end we know, despite it all, she’ll just keep rocking on and on until she drops. These girls talk the talk and walk the walk, but first-time screenwriter Lovedog needed to inflict less pain on her characters and infuse more real, character-driven drama into the third act to really make this film come together.

Got a comment? Write to me at nancyamazon@gmail.com