Prey for Rock and Roll

Prey for Rock and Roll

USA, 2003. Rated R. 104 minutes.

Cast: Gina Gershon, Lori Petty, Drea De Matteo, Shelly Cole, Marc Blucas, Ivan Martin
Writers: Cheri Lovedog, Robin Whitehouse
Original music: Cheri Lovedog (songs), Stephen Trask
Cinematographer: Antonio Calvache
Producer: Donovan Mannato, Gina Resnick, Gina Gershon
Director: Alex Steyermark


Grade: C Review by Dominic Varle

"It's better to burn out than it is to rust." Starting a film with a Neil Young lyric for no other reason than it sounds good is very rock and roll. If only Prey for Rock and Roll lived up to that promise. The song from which it is taken ("My My, Hey Hey," quoted by Kurt Cobain in his suicide note) also references The Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten, a reminder that there is an alternative to burning out. "Old punks don't die," the old joke goes, "they just cash in."

Adapted from the autobiographical musical by LA music scene veteran Cheri Lovedog, Prey for Rock and Roll attempts to examine the point at which you give up on your dreams. After twenty years in the margins of the music business, Jackie (Gina Gershon, Bound) is beginning to wonder whether she should stick to running her tattoo parlor. The group she fronts, Clam Dandy, is showing symptoms of a band frustrated at their lack of success. Her self-belief is being gnawed away by the petty squabbles, by the wavering commitment from Tracy, their trust-fund-baby-with-drug-habit bass player (Drea De Matteo, The Sopranos), and by her own outward signs of wear and tear. "Wouldn't you prefer someone more…buoyant?" Jackie asks of a would-be boyfriend. Pushing forty and still without a record deal, Jackie is stuck between rock 'n' roll and a hard place. Does she realistically have a shot at making it or should she call it a day?
Gina Gershon as Cheri Lovedog's alter-ego Jackie in Prey for Rock and Roll

In the late 1980s, Clam Dandy plays the spirited but forgettable kind of West Coast punk that marked time between the demise of The Runaways and the emergence of L7. The quality of the songs notwithstanding (some are good, many are fillers), Gershon is a compelling front woman. And, unusually for a film featuring a band, this one—Lori Petty on lead guitar, De Matteo on bass, and drummer Shelly Cole—can convincingly play their instruments. They're not great, but they're not supposed to be great. After an estimable career as music editor and producer (Malcolm X, The Ice Storm, and Swimfan among legion others), first-time director Alex Steyermark has a sure touch capturing Clam Dandy's live dynamic—and their incidental simmering tensions.

Predictable though this may sound, Prey for Rock and Roll was shaping up to be an insightful character study on aging by Gershon. However, when Jackie takes a call from the only record label in town willing to offer Clam Dandy a deal, Prey takes a dogleg into melodrama. The chain of events that follow this flap of the butterfly's wings burdens the plot so heavily that the original (and more interesting) premise becomes lost in the mix. (To be fair to Lovedog, she acknowledges that twenty years worth of incidents are compressed into three months of Prey. To be fair to me, I'm not going to try compressing them further into the six hundred words of this review.) Let's just say that life, according to John Lennon, "is what happens while you are making other plans." Ultimately, it's Tracy's dysfunctional ("Porn and pizza—you're a true romantic") and catastrophic relationship with her drug-dealing boyfriend, Nick (Ivan Martin), that propels the film into its last third.

That the sub-plots steal the show from Gershon is a pity, although she doesn't yield without a fight. A good singer and a compelling front for her band, Gershon is hindered from adding more nuance to her full-bore performance by the broader plot dynamics that Prey needed on the stage. Moreover, after covering rape, child abuse, revenge, patricide, death and sundry lesser tragedies, the film's valedictory justification for Jackie's carrying on with the band—"I just love rock and roll"—is trite. It might have worked off-off-Broadway, but Steyermark and Lovedog fail to make it happen on screen, despite the best efforts of the excellent Gina Gershon.

Review © October 2003 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2003 MAC Releasing. All Rights Reserved.

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