Monday, November 23, 2009

Movies: The great social lubricant

I was at a housewarming party last night -- a party that happened to be a block away from an unrelated social engagement, a choral concert at a Methodist church in which one of my friends was singing. So that worked out well.

I knew only about seven or eight people at the party, and was pretty anesthetized from the two+ hours of opera singing, so I was looking to get started in an easy conversation. I sat down in a free chair next to the couch where an old friend and her boyfriend were watching Sports Center.

The conversation got going pretty easily with my old friend, but her boyfriend, who had only briefly met me once before, didn't seem interested in becoming involved -- and might have even been mildly perturbed. (Then again, I'm quick to interpret sleepiness -- it was nearly 10:30, which is late for old people like us -- as perturbation.)

I asked what their holiday plans were, and where they might be going. As part of that question I asked him if he were from Los Angeles originally, and he told me he was from Cleveland. "Oh, I just saw a good movie about Cleveland today," I told him.

He perked up a bit. "American Splendor?"

"No, though I have seen that as well. No, it was The Rocker."

He immediately leaned in and began talking excitedly about the movie -- about how it was really filmed there, how you could recognize a lot of the neighborhoods, etc. We both agreed that it was a nice little comedy gem that had been overlooked.

A few minutes later, his girlfriend left to get a drink. He and I continued talking for the next 20 minutes, getting to the deep issues, like where we wanted to live in the world, and what a person's goals should be in making sure they have the life experiences they want to have before they're too old to have them.

What a good guy. A guy who, I thought, gave me the stink eye when I first sat down. A guy who, when I went to refresh my own drink, found me again less than five minutes later.

Thanks, The Rocker. Thanks for being a damn fun movie.

If you, like I, were mildly turned off by the somewhat icky image of Rainn Wilson above, and then turned off further by the abysmal box office performance of the movie, fear not. This is a sweet, genuinely funny, delightfully understated film, regardless of that ostentatious poster. I love fiction films about hair bands -- huge fan of Stephen Herek's Rock Star -- so consider that in my analysis. But don't give my bias too much weight. The Rocker is a joy to watch. It even has the strong endorsement of my wife, who copped to not liking The Wrestler as much as I did because its soundtrack was comprised almost entirely of hair band music.

And how nice to see Rainn Wilson out of The Office, headlining his own film, to use the film's gig terminology. I like Jack Black quite a bit, but this would probably have been a much different -- and much lesser -- film with Black in the lead.

And maybe then I wouldn't have struck up such a nice conversation with such a nice guy at a party.

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