You pretty much know what you’re in for with Rock of Ages. The stage show has been on Broadway since 2009, and the songs have been around since the 1980s. The jukebox musical doesn’t exactly dig deep in the archives of the era’s music, so most of those songs are the ones you would know the words to even if you willfully avoided all things rock. The plot (rock-and-roll dreams!) isn’t unexpected, and the cast play their parts while wearing exactly the clothes we only dreamed of finding at the Salvation Army when preparing for the annual ’80s-themed dance when I was in college. It’s fun, but unsurprising. (For more details, check out Richard Corliss’ review.)
That’s not to say that there aren’t some surprises in the movie. For one thing, there are the tongues. Many tongues. Touching many other tongues. And other body parts. Top tongue-manipulation honors go to Tom Cruise, Malin Akerman and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but most of the tongues in the movie get their due, as if either a) nobody involved in the production has ever seen real people kiss, or b) it was an in-joke on the set for which you really had to be there. Or maybe that was how they did it back in 1987.
But once you get over the tongues, one of the most surprising parts of the movie is also one of the best—and one of the only parts of the movie worth talking rather than singing about. (And speaking of surprises, here’s where you really should stop reading if you want to remain unspoiled.)
Even though Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta get to have a falling-in-love montage that involves ’80s beachwear and a photobooth and roller-skating, theirs is not the heartwarming love at the center of the story. They are not the true lovers who get to sing REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” while gazing into each other’s eyes. That honor goes to Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand. Yes, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, nightclub owner and hapless employee, a scraggly anti-Jack-Donaghy and a beanpole in suspenders.
The even bigger surprise is that, while Baldwin and Brand play almost everything in the movie for laughs, their love duet felt sincere, comedy but not mockery. Sure, they look silly, probably because they’re in a silly movie and they’re well aware of that fact. Their dancing is silly, and it’s a pretty silly song. But the possibility that “what started out as friendship has grown stronger,” in the words of REO Speedwagon, doesn’t seem silly at all. (True, it’s supposed to be 1987, and their casual declarations of love seem more modern than that, but there’s so much outlandishness around them that fact-checking the history seems in bad spirits.) The Baldwin-Brand relationship doesn’t get too much screen time, but it’s believable and sweet—far more believable than Hough and Boneta’s insta-relationship and far sweeter than the course of true love that lands those two in a boy band and on a stripper pole, respectively.
And that their kiss is not preceded by a gross close-up of a tongue seems proof that they’re for real. Or do you disagree? Was it totally expected—or, worse, mean? Let us know in the comments below.