prey for rock & roll
FIlm, 2003, 4 stars
Directed: Alex Steyermark
Written: 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 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 all-girl band The Clam Dandys, who play the usual traps around LA. She’s come from a rough background 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), a trust-fund girl rebelling from her conservative upbringing through substance abuse, and lovers Sally (Shelly Cole) and Faith (Lori Petty), drummer and lead guitarist. These guys are 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 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. 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 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 spent ten years inside and now emerges, a thirty-year-old virgin with muscles, tattoos and survival instincts but seemingly not much else. Animal starts to hit on Jacki, which despite giving her a few laughs over their age difference, 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 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 againshe’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 but he’s meant to be the naive muscle, so he’s not expected to do much. Lori Petty cruises 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.
The standout is relative newcomer Shelly Cole (Gilmore Girls) who not only looks like she could be a member of Sleater-Kinney and pounds those drums like she was born to it, she handles her emotional scenes like a seasoned performer. With Gershon, a lot of the harshest scenes fall on her capable shoulders.
The final minutes give us some hope that these amazing women will go on, and keep kicking ass until they drop. It's some small consolation after all the drama. This is a harrowing film, no doubt about it, but if you’re a queer girl who loves rock music warts and all, this could be one of your favourites.