I know it was silly of me to get my hopes up over a made-for-TV movie airing on Ch5 in the afternoon, but the premise of Rock the House (2010) made it sound too good to miss! For those who don’t know, this “faith and family” flick tells the story of a divorced, workaholic father who is too busy clinging to a precarious career ladder to pay any attention to his estranged teenage daughter on their meagre weekends together. So far, so blah… but the TV guide suggested that the two of them would begin to bond over a shared interest in Rock music, when it’s revealed that the button-down Dad used to play lead-guitar in a high-school “garage band”. Which is kinda what happens, I guess, but the movie I was imagining in my head after reading that synopsis was a lot funner and a lot cooler than what I actually ended up seeing on the screen.
Considering the fact this movie was aimed at a mainstream, family audience, I guess it’s not too surprising that the music they play is very safe and radio-friendly… but the characters all seem to exist in a weird pop-culture void, where no one ever talks about other bands or genres. They just pick up their instruments and play. The Dad and Daughter don’t ever discuss their favourite artists or inspirations… except in one scene where they both seem to connect over one particular singer/songwriter, who they never actually name (referring to her only as “her”), so it’s all very vague and generic. Presumably that’s a budgetary thing… it costs a lot of time and money to get permission to use the songs and merchandise of established artists, or to mock up the same for fictional artists… but without them, the whole thing rings very hollow and facile. The original songs that Dad’s reunited band play are pretty solid (if a little tepid), but again they only have three of them to work with, so you have to hear them over and over again. At one point Dad gets into a conversation with a vaguely bohemian coffee-shop owner lady, who becomes the band’s one-woman fan-club, and she starts getting a little churchy with him, saying how much better her life has become since she gave herself over to a higher power. At that point, I was sorta hoping that Rock music would become the “higher power” that changed the other characters’ lives, and it would all build to some sort of kick-ass crescendo, but there’s no real passion here… no rapture… no ecstasy! It just made we want to watch School of Rock again, and see Jack Black testifyin’ about the thrill of playing one perfect gig.
One of the other major problems I had with this movie was that it was told almost entirely from the Dad’s perspective, and the pro-patriarchy bias was pretty off-putting. Basically, he’s a well-meaning, good-hearted family man, who’s only real flaw is that he works too darn hard to provide for his shrewish ex-wife, and their sullen, sulky daughter. While the womenfolk gripe and glower at him, he always replies calmly with dialogue that sounds as if it’s been copied-and-pasted directly from some sort of self-help manual. The fact that the new woman in his life worships him, bakes for him, and can’t even get her landlord to fix the sink without his help, also speaks volumes about the outdated conservative values underpinning this story. I had a really hard time figuring out what the Daughter’s deal was too. At one point she confesses that she doesn’t have any friends at all… which is kinda weird considering the fact she’s smart, creative, cute, clean-cut, fashionably dressed, and has apparently lived in the same town for the last sixteen years. I mean, I was a fat, weird, dorky, smelly, greasy mess when I was her age, and I had plenty of friends… so what’s her problem? I’m guessing it might have something to do with the fact that when she was younger she declared to the whole school that she was going “on a date” with her Dad, and had even bought a new outfit for the occasion… which is kinda weird, right?
For some reason she’s also a member of the prom-planning committee, where she moons over the blandly handsome Hunk who leads the meetings, even though he only has eyes for the school’s bitchy “Queen Bee”… and to be honest, I found myself liking her a lot more than the Daughter too. Basically it boils down to a scene where they’re brainstorming ideas for a prom theme… Queen Bee assertively suggests a vampire theme, with goth-y costumes and blood-coloured punch, while Daughter shyly suggests a “classic rock” theme, with vinyl records and posters stuck to the wall. Yawn! Queen Bee calls this idea “lame”, and the Hunk is quick to back the Daughter up… but the fact is, it really was a super-lame suggestion… especially since, as noted above, they can’t afford to use any genuine vintage posters or album covers as decoration. SPOILER: Their idiot classmates end up voting for the “classic rock” theme anyway (because the writer wants Dad’s band to play the prom), even though the Queen Bee’s suggestion sounded waaay more fun, and I’m sure she had a lot more friends and admirers at the school! Inevitably, the Hunk spurns the Queen Bee in favour of our supposed heroine, claiming that the was just too “high maintenance” for him… which by this movie’s standards probably means she refused to wash his feet with her hair. Feh.
As for the cast, well… Dad is played by Jack Coleman, of wearing-horn-rimmed-glasses-in-Heroes fame, and I think he does a pretty good job, even if he does still come off as a little sinister at times. Cassi Thomson plays his daughter, ‘Karen’, but it’s a little hard to judge her performance here because her character is such a cipher. I did like the way she sang though… it can’t be easy to “act” and sing at the same time, conveying the character’s hesitance, while also demonstrating your vocal skills, but Thomson really pulled it off. Naively, I assumed that she’d get a more self-assured solo at the end, where she could really wail and make her Dad proud… but apparently he was only interested in bringing her up on stage as a backing singer. Sure, he loves her, but she’s still gotta learn her place, right? The women in this movie are only ever allowed to support the Men they love, and never outshine them! Was this really only made a year ago? Feels like I’m in a time-warp here. Did Feminism actually happen, or did I just dream it? Oy. Dude’s nagging, good-for-nothing ex-wife (it’s stated pretty clearly that she doesn’t work, and is solely supported by the Dad’s alimony) is played by Helen Slater, and frankly it’s a little sad to see Supergirl getting caught up in this sort of sexist claptrap. To be fair, her character is depicted quite sympathetically in the early scenes, as she’s constantly having to console and cajole Karen, when her Dad forgets to pick her up, or blanks her in favour of his precious, precious work… but once the father starts readjusting his priorities, and hanging out with his cool new lady-friend, it’s pretty obvious that poor old Mum is getting written out of the script. There is one rather sweet scene where she repeatedly compliments Karen on her appearance as she models her prom dress, but again this comes off as a little regressive in light of the fact that Mom apparently didn’t realise her own daughter had such a beautiful singing voice, and never praised her quite so effusively for it! Meanwhile, Clare Carey gives a very warm and lively performance as Dad’s born-again groupie, ‘Jesse’… and Jenna Stone brings the requisite snarky relish to her role as the bitchy Queen Bee, ‘Chloe’. So, snaps to them.