All too often the big budget blockbuster movies of Hollywood miss a crucial element in filmmaking: story. Actors, in those grandiose special effects-filled productions, may have difficult tasks in hanging from wires in front of blue or green screens, but their performances are many times as hollow as the empty rooms where they shoot. It's because of lack of story. Well, the opposite is true for the twisting and turning suspense/romance indie flick Rock Story.
The film haunts and daunts from its first flicker—an ultra close-up of late 20s girl next door beauty Danielle Kelly (Mandy Bruno). She tells how her name, hair, face and body have been changed - courtesy of some tragedy - and this is the "new me." Via this thirty second opening, you're immediately drawn in, asking "what", "why", and "how"?
The film transitions from its black and white initial offering into what appears to be a colorful courtroom drama. Mario Cash (Robert Bogue) enlightens a jury about the misgivings of a faulty prosecution with the charisma of a rock star. And then, he is just that. Well, sort of.
Cash, a criminal defense attorney by day is a regional rock n' roller by night, playing to packed crowds at local joints. Danielle is part of the cheering crowd, jamming to a barroom hit that no one outside of the band's base has heard. Danielle is also much more - something we slowly learn.
She is Mario's newbie law associate.
She is Mario's very talented newbie law associate. And she is Mario's very talented newbie law associate who refuses to stand when addressing the judge. Danielle refuses to stand because she is unable to stand. The young woman is paralyzed from the waist down. The "what", "why", and "how" are immediately back in play.
Mario Cash's thriving law practice is bolstered by Danielle's delivery of client fees and courtroom victories. And his stable, but not growing rock band, is about to implode due to her as well. You see, Mario has been receiving anonymous packages with CDs - CDs that contain the most wonderful lyrics, music and voice he has ever heard. He doesn't know who "she" is, but he's determined to find out—and he enlists Danielle to help him find this mystery singer/songwriter whom he is convinced will launch him and his band into stardom.
Meanwhile, the suspense elevates as Danielle's past is unraveling to the audience - but not to Mario or any of the other characters. In a series of black and white fore-tellings interlaced with the movie's narrative, it is revealed that Danielle is much more than Mario's talented, disabled law associate. She is a former teen pop star who everyone had thought was dead. She was “killed” in an accident ten years ago. Danielle tells her story to Judge Carol Ann Connelly (Joyce DeWitt) who she clearly knows. Or do they know each other? How do they know each other? Why is she talking to this judge?
Back in the general narrative - which is all in color - the judge is also receiving the same anonymous music. She's emotionally moved by it just like Mario. But there's a major difference. "I know who that voice is", the judge tells her congressman husband (Robert David Hall). "It's Brandy Hart, my most prized client. She's alive, Robert. She's alive."
Danielle Kelly is Brandy Hart. And it all seemingly comes to a head when she arrives in the judge's courtroom to reveal herself to the stately woman who had once been her manager. The black and white segments merge into color where it is all pieced together (for the audience). Brandy Hart, at 17, had been in a horrific boating accident in the Canary Islands. Her mother, along with several other passengers, was killed. Brandy Hart was the sole survivor, yet the entire world did not know it. Now, she has re-emerged as lawyer Danielle Kelly. She only wants the judge to know about her past. And she wants the judge to manage her again; this time as a Pat Benatar-type rocker, given that Danielle has revealed herself to Mario too. Well, sort of.
Danielle let Mario know that she was the one sending him the anonymous CDs (though she told him nothing of her pop star history). That led to Mario dropping the bomb on his band mates. Danielle, he demanded, would replace the drug-addled lead female vocalist (Dominique Swain).
In a highly charged and well-acted ensemble cast scene, the band splits. It then seems that Mario, Danielle, and a few of the old band members are on their way to the national fame that Mario had always yearned for and that Danielle/Brandy was ready to reclaim. And Mario and Danielle were falling in love. And the judge was in her glory, with Brandy/Danielle back in her life. Record deal in-hand, the group was in the land of happiness...Or were they? The answers to the true "what", "why", and "how" are now about to explode...
Rock Story - a film that also features the likes of Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts (The Pope of Greenwich Village, The Expendables), Sean McNabb (from "Quiet Riot"), and comedy legend Gilbert Gottfried (Aladdin) - is a complex, but simply explained suspense that brilliantly interplays original rock music (music which is equally ensured high-level success as the movie). It's all about story here. The narrative tells an intriguing story. The early fore-tellings of the flick tell an intriguing story. And the music tells an intriguing story. A constantly intriguing story that blasts with a twist ending that assuredly no one will see coming.
From the mind of a real-life former judge and best-selling author, Kenneth Del Vecchio, who has written/directed/produced over 20 films (most with wild and/or controversial twists), Rock Story relays the story of broken people who have a chance to make it all happen for themselves. Some will obtain that rebirth. Others might not. The writing is a smart collaboration among Del Vecchio (the film's producer) and two of his lead actors, Bogue and Bruno (who also happen to be real-life husband and wife). It's mysterious, suspenseful, emotional, and even at times humorous. Their screenplay succeeds with even more strength through visual efforts employed by director Dylan Bank, who elevates the storytelling through uncomfortable tight shots and jarring camera movements in concert and courtroom scenes alike. You often forget that Danielle is in a wheelchair—something that may be attributed to the entire team effort of outstanding writing, directing, and acting.
Bruno (a daytime Emmy nominee) is wholly believable in her portrayal of a paralyzed woman. And as a young, hotshot attorney. And as a rock n' roll star. She actually sings all of her own songs. Bruno rocked the role with eclectic natural talent rarely found in 2014 cinema. Her on- and off-screen partner, Bogue ("Oz", "Grand Theft Auto"), delivers a charming performance with anchor strength. He makes you want to root for him as much as Danielle and that's a tall order to fill when the female protagonist is a pop star back from the dead.
The big surprise in the acting realm in Rock Story, however, is "Three's Company" icon, Joyce DeWitt. If you thought she could only perfect comedy, you are sadly mistaken. A dream role for 55+ actresses (who are largely and unfairly relegated to small supporting spots as grandmothers in studio movies), DeWitt nailed the complicated judge with a brave and vulnerable performance that matches any of her movie star counterparts in her age range. No fooling, Meryl Streep may have to step aside at the 2015 Oscars for DeWitt if Rock Story gets a release before year's end. That wild twist that is the pinnacle moment of Rock Story's brilliant story is delivered through the unexpected magnificence of DeWitt. Her portrayal of Judge Connelly marks her deserved time for honor at the industry's top award ceremonies.
Rock Story premiered last week as the opening night movie at Hoboken International Film Festival.