By Roselle Chen
The title of the new rock saga film The Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll refers to 27 and the many famous musicians who have died at that age, including Robert Johnson, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison.
It opens today everywhere, and shortly before its premiere on Wednesday at the Laemmle Sunset 5, two of the films' stars, Jason Ritter and Taryn Manning, talked about the bizarre and accidental timing of the film's release, just weeks after the death of Amy Winehouse — another age 27 victim.
“A lot of times it's this darkness that drives these artists to be so creative,” says Ritter, who plays songwriter Eric Genson in the film. “They run away from it as fast as they can and sometimes it overtakes them.”
The story centers on fictional has-been rocker Spyder (played by Kevin Zegers) and his guilt-ridden memories. Now 47, he flashes back 20 years and focuses on the painful details for a journalist.
The younger Spyder is cocky, crass and shirtless. He released a successful debut album by stealing his best friend's lyrics, and, after a sophomore slump, is back for more. Rose Atropos (Taryn Manning) is his manager, and things get a predictable kind of messy as they take a requisite road trip to self discovery from Long Island to Los Angeles, driven in a beat-up RV by Peter Fonda.
The film suffers because of its self-conscious dialogue, managing to cheapen a John Steinbeck quote when Fonda recounts the writer's frustrations with the Mojave Desert. It was a barrier, he explains, to test man to “prove whether he was good enough to get to California.”
The Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll has its flaws. But what it lacks in originality, it almost makes up for in a jam session with blues legends. “I felt like I had no business being up on stage with Sugar Blue, Pinetop Perkins and Ruby Dee,” says Ritter. “I looked at Hubert Sumlin, Bob Stroger and Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith and thought, 'Please just turn me down and let them do their own stuff.'”
Manning notes the dichotomy between a rock star's outward persona and inner strife. “It's about humans being humans,” she says. “It sheds light on the struggles of trying to make it, and it's far from glamorous. People may see you as a star, but on the inside you don't see that.”
My two cents? For these musicians who died at 27, it's as if their brilliance ate them alive, even while they still had more to give. They were immersed in the music and its destructive lifestyle. Perhaps 27 is a time when most people gather themselves together and move on to the next stage of their lives, but these folks simply burnt out before they could.