"The Rocker" is a surprisingly enjoyable movie, with engaging performances, jokes that are suited for the material, and a fairly solid premise. I was consistently interested in what was going on, and I actually cared about the characters. In a sense, it's like a sports movie, in which we root for the heroes to fight the good fight and emerge victorious. I'm hard pressed to say it was any better than it wanted to be, however. Had this story been told dramatically, it probably would have been much more powerful; the rise to fame is not without its turmoil, especially when the celebrities are teenagers. The idea of an adult drummer leading a teenage rock band from the garage to the arena is full of emotionally charged possibilities. Many of them weren't explored because "The Rocker" was made as a comedy. But that's okay. It still works.
The story begins in 1986, just as a popular heavy metal band called Vesuvias finishes a gig in Cleveland. Despite their success, the drummer, Robert "Fish" Fishman (Rainn Wilson), is unceremoniously kicked out of the band. He swears that he'll make it no matter what, but when we flash forward twenty years, it's clear that things haven't worked out as planned; Fish spends his days doing the tasks of a soul-crushing desk job. When he's fired for unruly behavior (namely attacking a coworker for playing the new Vesuvias album), he's forced to leave his apartment and move in with his disapproving sister, Lisa (Jane Lynch), her thrill-seeking husband, Stan (Jeff Garlin), and their quarrelsome children, Violet (Samantha Weinstein) and Matt (Josh Gad). Matt and his high school friends Amelia (Emma Stone) and Curtis (Teddy Geiger) have formed a rock band called A.D.D.; after weeks of trying, they will finally have their first gig at the prom.
But there's a problem: the drummer was suspended from school and grounded by his mother. With little resources available, and with only one day to go until the gig, Matt asks Fish if he would be willing to once again pick up his drumsticks. Fish accepts, and when prom night arrives, everything goes smoothly. At least, it does at first; things go wrong when Fish ruins A.D.D.'s rendition of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes." When the smoke clears, everyone decides to give Fish another chance, but only if he can get them another gig. Then comes the night all four members practice with each other via webcams--Fish, not realizing the device on his laptop is a camera and not a microphone, sits completely naked at his drum set. "Hello, YouTube," says Violet maliciously, watches everything on her computer.
Before anyone knows it, the video known as "The Naked Drummer" is an Internet sensation. It isn't long before a scummy L.A. agent named David Marshall (Jason Sudeikis) enters with promises of fame and fortune. Thus begins A.D.D.'s Midwest tour, in which they open for other various bands. Hopefully, this will pave the way to more serious venues, maybe even their first solo gig. Of course, nothing like this can happen without some trouble along the way; Fish, hoping to loosen up the other members, encourages reckless behavior, like destroying hotel rooms and attending wild parties (by some miracle, the issue of alcohol never comes up). While all the parents recognize that Fish is a bad influence, Curtis' mother, Kim (Christina Applegate), believes that the kids should follow their hearts. She volunteers to stay with the band for the rest of the tour to keep an eye on things.
At a certain point in the film, Fish is faced with a very tough decision. I won't reveal what it is, but I will say it creates the first real rift between him and the rest of the band. The question is raised: Was Fish always meant for a life of rock and roll, or is he just a sloppy, irresponsible dreamer that refuses to grow up? One could ask the same thing about most music superstars, which is why it's almost impossible to get an answer. Some are famous because they got lucky while other have actual talent. It seems that everyone in A.D.D. is talented enough: Fish certainly knows his way around a drum set; Amelia's good with a guitar, and Matt can really work a synthesizer; Curtis is a natural songwriter, although one wonders if he'll ever get past his abandonment issues. His father left him when he was only four, and he's been brooding about it ever since.
If this movie is, in fact, giving us a message, then it's probably the most obvious one we can think of: we have to do what we love and not let anyone stand in the way. We're also told about sticking together no matter what, since a band is essentially like a family. In this case, it's a family that doesn't want to "grow up"; they want to eat, breathe, and sleep music without becoming corporate-run zombies that sit behind desks staring at computer screens. Fish suffered that fate for twenty years, making a living but not being alive. All he wanted was to have a good time, and he finds that passion once again helping his nephew's band. The movie itself shares that same passion for fun, which is a nice change from some of the raunchier immature comedies released over the past couple of months ("Step Brothers" and "Drillbit Taylor" come to mind). "The Rocker" is funny without being excessive, and it actually tells us a story we can believe in. While it wasn't made as a drama, there are moments that are a bit more thoughtful in their approach. The fact that the filmmakers knew when to let the humor simmer down tells me they took their work seriously.