The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which made its New York debut at CMJ’s film festival on Monday, is a movie that never fulfills the promise of its title. According to director and screenplay writer Scott Rosenbaum, rock’s golden age was somewhere in the early 1990s–those heady, innocent days when grunge began seeping onto the national airwaves, pushing hair metal into a slow decline. Through a series of flashbacks, Perfect Age hinges on a band’s 1991 cross-country road trip. Spyder (Kevin Zegers), the singer of a multi-platinum goth-inspired rock band called the Lost Soulz , breezes into his Long Island hometown to convince his childhood friend Eric Genson (Jason Ritter) to join the band. Genson agrees on the condition that the band returns to LA via airstream trailer instead of private jet, winding through the country on Route 66. They’re joined by August West (Peter Fonda), Genson’s family friend who acts as a wizened, Steinbeck-quoting Delphic rock oracle, as well a motley assortment of unnamed roadie/musicians who take their sartorial cues from Dee Snider. (PHOTO: PERFECT AGE)
You can probably guess what happens next–the open road, betrayal, redemption, friendship, et cetera. At one point, somewhere in the bowels of the Midwest, Spyder and Genson happen upon a blues club where–lo and behold!–Pinetop Perkins and Sugar Blue are vamping onstage (Michael K. Williams, a.k.a Omar from The Wire, is there in an all-too-brief appearance). Ritter’s and Zegers’s performance in this scene is one of the bright spots of the film–for a few minutes, Rosenbaum seems to drop the pretension that mars much of the script and just have fun.
The film grapples with familiar rock ‘n’ roll dichotomies–authenticity vs. selling out, grit vs. glam, hallucinogens vs. opiates–but doesn’t bring anything new to the tired debate. The characters are cartoonish, easily identifiable music industry types: a devastatingly earnest songwriter with daddy issues; a poseur frontman who cops his material from a more talented bandmate; a miserly bling-bedecked, LA-based producer; a groupie/manager with a taste for pink cocaine and a soft heart. Rosenbaum seems afraid that the audience won’t understand what’s happening unless he spells it out–so he does, in billboard-high letters. The Perfect Age of Rock’n’Roll would have benefited from a lighter touch. Under the weight of so much explanation, it stagnates. It doesn’t rock, it doesn’t roll–it barely moves at all.