Prey for Rock & Roll is marketed as a film about an all-women rock band trying to succeed in the male-dominated music biz, and while that is true on one level, Prey for Rock & Roll is really a gritty, realistic, and disturbing meditation on the pervasiveness of violence against women in our culture. It has more in common with Thelma and Louise than Rock Star or Almost Famous, as the women in Prey for Rock & Roll struggle to keep the band together as they face one tragedy after another.
Directed by Alex Stayermark, Prey for Rock & Roll is based on the real-life story of female rocker Cheri Lovedog (who co-wrote the screenplay). Gina Gershon plays Jacki, the tattoo artist and bisexual leader of the L.A. band Clam Dandy who wonders as she approaches her 40th birthday if she should quit singing, since she still hasn’t achieved financial or critical success. Faith (Lori Petty), Sally (Shelly Cole) and Tracy (Drea de Matteo) are the other members of the band, each struggling with their own issues–especially Tracy, whose drug habit is starting to become more than just a minor problem.
Sally’s brother Animal (Marc Blucas) is paroled from prison near the beginning of the film and comes to live with Sally, and although he looks tough, he turns out to be the only guy in the film who isn’t a total asshole.
The band’s music is interwoven throughout the film, both as background and through extended scenes of the band performing, and althuogh the performances can sometimes feel a little long, the music adds a richness to the film that even non-rock fans will appreciate.
The way sexuality is portrayed in the film is refreshingly unconventional. Sally and Faith are lesbians and in a committed relationship, but Jacki’s sexuality is fluid–when the film opens she is involved with Jessica (Shakara Ledard), but later she develops a relationship with a guy. There is some banter about Jacki’s sexuality and Sally and Faith’s relationship, but neither is a big topic of conversation in the film; the film just plunges us into their world and assumes the audience understand and accepts the variety of relationships that are presented in the film.
There is the beginning of a sex scene between Jacki and Jessica early on and some subtle displays of affection between Sally and Faith, but that’s about the extent of the overt displays of lesbian sexuality in the film. The Jacki-Jessica sex scene is alternately sexy and humorous, and the relationship between Sally and Faith is sweetly portrayed throughout; the two women clearly depend upon and support one another, and actually have the healthiest relationship in the film.
Unfortunately, tragegy strikes their relationship, likely leaving many lesbian viewers frustrated at yet another cinematic lesbian coming to a bad end, even if intellectually we know this is necessary in order for the film to be true to Lovedog’s real-life experiences.
Compared to most of the heterosexual relationships in the film, however, even a tragic lesbian relationship looks appealing. Sexually and physically abusive heterosexual relationships are a major theme in the film, so much so that by the end of the film you’re actually rooting for Jacki and Animal to get together just to prove that not every heterosexual relationship involves the victimization of women.
The acting in the film is strong across the board. Gershon (who also played a bisexual woman in Showgirls and a lesbian in Bound) is the perfect choice to play Jacki, and the fact that she sings most of the songs in the film herself is even more remarkable. Petty (Tank Girl and Relax, It’s Just Sex) and newcomer Cole are convincing in their individual roles and as a lesbian couple, and de Matteo demonstrates her range as Tracy (in a marked departure from her Soprano‘s character).
Even Blucas (who played Riley on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) shines as the ex-con whose tough-but-quiet demeanor masks a depth of emotion that surprises everyone but his sister.
This is not a love story, or a feel-good, triumph-of-the-underdog story, and it’s about women, so it’s unlikely to be a box-office hit when it hits the theaters. The movie feels a little long in some places, the pacing feels uneven in others, and the relentless violence gets downright depressing by the end of the film. Knowing the story is based on real events only makes the violence harder to watch–but this raw honesty is also what makes Prey for Rock & Roll so compelling.
The fact that there are so few films about women in the music industry also makes this film stand out. Such a realistic portrayal of what it takes to stay alive in the music business may make some budding female musicians think twice about starting a band, even as it will likely inspire many music fans to do more to support female musicians.
In the end, Prey for Rock & Roll is a powerful story about perseverance through sheer determination, and how sometimes simply surviving can be defined as success. Like Thelma and Louise, it’s likely to leave you angry and moved, and while it’s not a film you’ll want to watch repeatedly, it’s not a film you’re likely to forget quickly, either.