Directed by #ChristopherBeech
Film review by Nathanial Eker
‘Rock & Roll is here to stay’ say Danny and the Juniors. Well, let’s hope it’s not for long, as Actor-Producer-Director Christopher Beech’s surreal black comedy Rock & Roll is a directionless affair that ambles along at a pace more akin to slow jazz. Although Beech experiments with exciting visual techniques, too often the film is defined by pantomimic acting, pointless tangents, and a penchant for crass jokes about bodily fluids.
Clearly enthused by one too many Ramones ballads, Johnny Ghost strives to be a Rockstar. It’s unclear to what extent he’s successful in this endeavour, due to the small stage seen during the film’s climax, but ho-hum. What is clear is that Johnny is late for a gig and he needs to get moving. Unfortunately, a combination of Ghost’s vices and various hangovers from a big night before might have something to say about that.
The biggest sin Rock & Roll commits is its lacking stakes. The cuts back to the green room should encourage urgency, yet the performances of Lynne Sellers and Josi St. Tovi as Johnny’s manager and bandmate respectively are so painfully stock that the situation is entirely unbelievable. Equally, Johnny is written in such a haphazard manner that he often seems to forget the gig’s existence altogether. Yes, he’s coked off his head, but the lack of rises in tension create a film that bores and makes a compelling case for additional script drafts.
Beech’s performance as Johnny is comparatively strong when examining his co-stars. Though he does have a tendency towards cartoonish squeaks and over the top glares, Ghost grounds the film with verisimilitude and likability. His passion for his dream is admirable, though it’s unclear why Johnny talks directly to camera in scenes randomly placed throughout. Often these segments hold for too long and function as merely as another diversion to distract us from the core conflict. Had Rock & Roll been stripped to ten minutes, keeping a tighter narrative, its charm could’ve outweighed its more frustrating elements.
Fortunately, the film fares much better technically. Bar the odd irritating shaky cam (and a weird cameo from the crew), the mise-en-scené is strong. Beech layers his sets with generic formalities; cocaine, a half-naked chap on the sofa, and a never-ending spinning bottle. The monochrome aesthetic works and the transition to colour is striking and effective. Close ups to put us in the boots of Johnny are also implemented well and overall the combination of camera, editing, and costume collaborate to craft a compelling black comedic tone. It’s a shame then that the script lets the side down so staggeringly.
Woven throughout the poo joke-laden Rock & Roll is a genuine comment on the struggles of carving out a dream career; an admirable observation indeed. Johnny laments a lack of identity; the moment where he struggles to name a hobby or interest is a genuinely humanising one. Equally, the notion not to ‘live in the shadow of another’ creates intriguing food for thought about how far we take our idolism. Had the dialogue been stronger and unnecessary scenes cut, Rock & Roll could’ve said something engaging about the price of fame and the perils of hero worship. Of course, it’d first have to sacrifice the gripping moment where Johnny sticks his hand into a particularly filthy toilet bowl.
Rock & Roll is close to being compelling. It boasts a solid core premise but is let down by poor acting, ham-fisted dialogue, and a serious lack of stakes. The importance of redrafting can’t be overstated, yet there are shades of greatness in this monochromatic mess. With a tighter focus and a shorter runtime, Rock & Roll could’ve been a thoughtful piece about the notion of what it truly means to be a Rockstar. As is, it’s too clunky and unfocused to deserve true praise.
Sorry Joan Jett, I don’t love Rock & Roll.