Liz Smith: Why/How Did "Rock of Ages" Crumble?

“FUCK ‘EM if they can’t take a joke.”

Bette Midler 
immortalized that expression. And Tom Cruise must be muttering it himself this week.

Although I had a feeling Rock of Ageswasn’t going to be a smash, I did think enough people would appreciate this obvious parody of 1980’s music, fashions and attitudes to give it some box-office bang. Apparently not! (It came in a weak third behind Madagascar 3 and the bewildering  sci-fi stunner Prometheus.)

ROA is Mamma Mia for metal heads — a thin story upon which to base one musical number after another. Of course, Mamma Mia! had the previous screen credentials of “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell” and the more inclusive pop melodies of ABBA, rather than Journey power ballads or the head-banging anthems of Def Leppard and Poison. And, in time, it had Meryl Streep in the movie!

But Tom is hilarious and disturbing as the dissolute rock star. Many reviewers cite him as the best thing in the film. Maybe everybody from the 1980s is dead or committed to asylums. Or, going to Broadway, where the stage version ofRock of Ages, is doing brisk business. Why is everybody being so serious about this movie?

On the up side, Tom’s last Mission Impossible took in around $600 million. He has several movies in post-production, and one being readied. So, no weeping for him.

AS Noel Coward would say, “I’ve Been To a Mah-velous Party!”

It happened last week when, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City held an annual benefit with a bash on the Grey Advertising building rooftop up over Fifth Avenue.

This was in the middle of the on-going controversy about whether or not, we New Yorkers, should be allowed to quaff huge sugary drinks. The Mayor says no and at his party, people sipped little glasses of white and red wine. (As I was wearing white, I opted for the Chardonnay.)

I love the Mayor and was flattered when Deputy Mayor Patti Harris whispered that I deserved big credit “for having started all this hoopla about the Mayor’s Fund.” She was wrong but it was nice.

I have played only a small part in calling attention and raising money for Mike Bloomberg’s discretionary public programs. Since 2002, this Fund has raised nearly $300 million for the City’s good!

Lisa Kabnick, Nina Freedman, Mayor Bloomberg, Susi Cahn, and Patti Harris.

On this particular night, they raised $900,000 for New York! When we went across the roof to Mario Batali’s Birreria restaurant, high above what is known as Eataly, there were the Fund leaders Rob Speyer and Megan Sheekey.

I saw many of the Mayor’s oldest pals — Jon and Susan Rotenstreich, Deborah and Peter Krulewitch (she’s the Estee Lauder maven) … Mike’s trusted aide Kevin Sheekey, shoe queen Tamara Mellon, fashion’s Tory Burch, realtor Billy Rudin, acting’s Ryan and Ethan Hawke, Macy’s Terry Lundgren, and so many vibrant young people. Dinner was great and I sat with the Mayor’s personal decorator, style czar Jamie Drake.

Lyor Cohen, Tory Burch, Anne-Cecilie and Rob Speyer, and Steven Rubenstein.

Megan Sheekey with Susan and Jon Rotenstreich.

My thanks to Grace Meigher who let her husband, Chris, the Quest publisher, take me out. (Mr. Meigher and I like to run down the memory lane of our former days with Time, Inc.)

I also saw Grey Advertising’s dynamo, Jennifer Landers, who once worked publicizing my memoir. Her title is great — “SVP Director Reputation Management.”

That’s what everybody needs these days — someone to manage their reputation. Or what may be left of it.

Chris Meigher, Liz Smith, and Patti Harris.

Shelby Gaines and Ethan Hawke.

Patti Harris with Terry and Tina Lundgren.

Nina Freedman, Diana Taylor, and Deborah Krulewitch.

Mayor Bloomberg, Mario Batali, and Susi Cahn.

Christo, Antoni Miralda, Lauren Geller, and Megan Sheekey.

Mayor Bloomberg with Jeff and Wendy Barker.

Michael Ovitz, Anna Wintour, and Mayor Bloomberg.

Liz Neumark, Jill Kaplan, Dale Brooks, and Carol Conslato.

Kevin Burke, Bob Tierney, and Carolyn Wakeman.

Jamie Drake and Rob Bose.

Aby Rosen, Samantha Boardman Rosen, and Bob Tierney.

Patti Harris, Lisa Kabnick, Susi Cahn, and Nina Freedman.

Tamara Mellon, Anna Chapman, Mayor Bloomberg, Ron Perelman, Debbie Staley, and Jes Staley.

Yolanda Jimenez, Mayor Bloomberg, Tamara Mellon, and Michael Ovitz.

Sally Minard, Liz Ross, Laura Ross, and Mayor Bloomberg.

Melanie Hartzog, Diahann Billings-Burford, and Frances Resheske.

Christo, Allison Jaffin, and Darren Walker.

Mayor Bloomberg with Eataly Staff.

SOMETIMES, struggling in traffic to get across Manhattan to the Times Square district, I do wish there were more theaters on the East Side.

Luckily, I have now re-discovered the small but effective York Theater which is run by the dedicated Jim Morgan. And it’s in St. Peter’s Church, on Lexington Ave, entrance on the side at 54th St.

George Dvorsky, Christiane Noll, Sal Viviano and Jen Colella in “Closer Than Ever.”

The York gives us 40 readings a year of musicals in development and I note that two of my favorite ladies ever, Geraldine Stutz andDorothy Strelsin, left the York endowments!

The other eve I saw a run-through of the lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr.and musician David Shire’s work titled Closer Than Ever. This is a revue of ’80’s songs and I just fell in love with it. In the first portion, the performers (Jenn Colella, George Dvorsky, Christiane Noll, Sal Viviano) made me imagine being happily in love again with a double rainbow onstage — in my mind. Each performer was terrific and Maltby’s lyrics, as they descended into reality hell and in-laws and children, are in a class by themselves.

The time is before I-phones, e-mail, apps, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I particularly loved a number “Miss Byrd” done by the magically comical Ms. Colella. Everything about this is first rate!

Maltby/Shire have been around for years but I feel — much neglected. Their songs explore real romance and disappointments and hope. There is a metaphor onstage of doors opening and closing on love. This show is bigger than its four-person cast and we’re closer than ever to believing in tomorrow because of it. It opens tomorrow night and runs till July 14. Call 212.935.5820 about the reasonably priced tickets.

WHEN DO you know time is rushing by? When you see Jon Bon Jovi in a commercial for Advil. He needs relief from the pain of — still being so damn sexy!

This column originally appeared on on 6/20/12

3 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Jennifer juniper says:

    The reason that Rock of Ages failed at the box office is because of its demographic.  If you think about the songs in it and the 80’s parodies.. this is aimed at (brace yourselves) people around their 40s.  How many 40-something do you know that have no kids (kids would demand Madagascar) and whose first choice for movie-going would be RoA?  And in June, which is always going to be a even more cruel month for such a film (people are on vacation – they are dealing with kids off school)  I’ve seen nothing in the trailers that would appeal to young people either. (That’s not necessarily bad.)  I do suspect that it will do well on DVD/Demand though. 

  2. avatar D C says:

    Rock of Ages:  I am over 50, and LOVED the music… but have to admit, I walked out of the theatre feeling like I needed a shower, and I’m no prude.  Of course, I did have my kids with me (16-boy, 19-boy, 23-girl).  I guess I just didn’t expect that much skin and pelvic thrusting and face-in-crotch scenes in a PG-13 Movie.  The sex scene with Tom and Malin on the table was absolutely sex, even though they were dressed.  And the jerking off during the opening and subsequent showering of carbonated beverage throughout Pour Some Sugar On Me was just a bit much.  Tom Cruise is not my favorite, but I cannot deny the guy throws himself completely into a role, and he did just that in this movie.  I did not have the opportunity to see the stage show, but read a review that talked about the differences.  Sounded like the movie missed the bar by just a skosh.  I think I probably would have enjoyed it more without my kids — my daughter is finishing up a seminary class and part of that was to make a few commitments, including to not drink alcohol or watch any R-rated movies during the year-long class.  I saw that ROA was PG-13 and figured, GREAT!!!  We can watch this TOGETHER!  She spent half the movie covering her eyes, trying to live up to her commitment. 

    We all walked out of the theatre laughing though, and it will be a funny family story. 

  3. avatar Jon T says:

    I was surprised the movie didn’t make a better showing at the box office.  Of course at 41 I’m the prime target for the music of Rock of Ages. 🙂  But what really struck me is for all the gossip and tabloid fodder about Tom Cruise, he always comes back and reminds the world that at the end of the day he is a bona fide movie star and a damn good actor.  I absolutely bought him as an 80s metal rock god.