Arriving at Oslo’s airport a few minutes into Aberdeen, hard-charging, sharp-edged London lawyer Kaisa (Lena Headey) succinctly explains to an immigration agent how she got her name. “The Norwegian part’s an accident,” she says. “It’s called my father.”
Kaisa’s heavy-drinking father, Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård), is indeed an accident waiting to happen. He doesn’t know it, but Tomas is awaiting his long-estranged daughter. Her mother, Helen (Charlotte Rampling), has told Kaisa that Tomas, an unemployed North Sea oil-rig worker, wants to go to Scotland to enter a rehab program, but that’s a lie. The real reason for travel to the city that provides the title of this Scottish-Norwegian co-production is that Helen is dying of cancer, and she hopes to reconcile her long-divided family before she succumbs. The reunion works both better and worse than Helen could have imagined.
Kaisa locates Tomas easily and packs him up for the trip to Aberdeen with minimal resistance. (She rations his beer and whiskey to make him cooperate.) At the airport, however, Tomas’ intoxication is apparent, and the gate attendant won’t let him or his daughter board the plane. Kaisa reacts to this provocation with something more energetic than lawyerly restraint. It turns out that Kaisa, despite her upwardly mobile wardrobe and manner, has a bit of the old man in her. Director Hans Petter Moland has already shown us her taste for anonymous sex; now he discloses her penchant for brawling. (A few minutes later, he’ll broach her cocaine habit.)
Banned from flying, Kaisa hits the road, heading for the ferry that will take her and Tomas to Britain. The scenery along the way is striking, but she doesn’t notice it except when it disconcerts heras when she stops for a snort of coke and finds herself facing a pair of reindeer. (“There’s too much fucking nature in this country,” she protests.) Kaisa tries to demonstrate that she’s in control, often with unpleasant results; when she angrily shows Tomas how fast she can drive, for example, he responds by vomiting all over her expensive black miniskirted suit. (This bodily-fluid-soaked movie is definitely an argument for packing several changes of clothing even for a short trip.)
Bickering and bonding as they go, Kaisa and Tomas proceed toward Scotland, where Helen can’t understand why the trip is taking so long. The travelers are rescued from a flat tire by well-meaning truck driver Clive (Ian Hart), who’s later recruited to sleep with Kaisa and battle a street gang that’s tormenting Tomas. By the time father and daughter reach Aberdeen, Tomas is on the wagon and Kaisa looks as if she’d been run over by one. And there are a still a few upsets to come.
This sort of voyage of discovery is standard Hollywood fare, and Aberdeen includes moments that are no smarter than their equivalents in, say, Rain Man. The dialogueby Moland and co-writer Kristin Amundsenis sometimes obvious, and the central duo shifts a little too easily from mutual loathing into moments of nostalgic affinity. The cast, however, is much sharper than its likely Hollywood counterpartand unshackled by any requirement to be likable. As Kaisa and Tomas, Headey and Skarsgård are horrifying and yet human, sympathetic even at their most incorrigible. Hart, as he frequently does, brings dignity and warmth to a wrong-side-of-the-class-divide character, and Rampling makes a strong impression in a tiny role.
There’s one other player who can’t be discounted: Cinematographer Philip Ogaard makes every frame gleam, positioning the characters in richly colorful compositions. The most striking locations are along rural Norwegian highways, where the open sky provides a sense of Kaisa and Tomas’ isolation, and at night tints the snow-covered ground a vivid blue. Yet Ogaard also captures the beauty in the much more mundane surroundings of bars, ferries, and hospitals, and renders an offshore oil rig as a vision of Tomas’ paradise lost. Neither Kaisa nor Tomas is the kind to notice, but the road to Aberdeen is as lovely as it is wrenching.
Boy has girl. Boy meets band. Boy forgets girlbut just temporarily. That’s the plot of Rock Star, which posits that rock stardom is less important than true lovethough without making either condition seem particularly stimulating.
Scripter John Stockwellwho recently wrote and directed the half-smart Crazy/Beautifulbased this tale on the real-life saga of Judas Priest, who replaced frontman Rob Halford (soon to come out as gay) with the singer from a Priest tribute band. The movie plays, however, as a series of borrowings from previous rock-star sagas. Steel Dragon fanatic Chris Cole (Mark Wahlberg) and his girlfriend/manager Emily (Jennifer Aniston) live and rock in ’80s Pittsburgh, which is close spiritually, geographically, and chronologically to the Cleveland where blue-collar strivers Joan Jett and Michael J. Fox pursued their rock ‘n’ roll dreams in Light of Day. Recruited to join his idols after singer Bobby Beers (Jason Flemyng) is forced out, Chris is renamed “Izzy” and ushered into a sex-and-drugs cavalcade that’s been compared with This Is Spi¬nal Tap but is closer in spirit to the gentler Still Crazy. (Timothy Spall, who played the drummer in that film, reappears as the benevolent roadie in this one.) When he comes to doubt his new status, Chris hits the road as a brooding troubadour, much like Neil Diamond in his hilarious remake of The Jazz Singer.
The experience that best prepared Wahlberg for this role was not his brief run as Marky Mark but his turn as Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights. In both films, he plays an easygoing if slow-witted youth who happens upon a wonderland of vice. Rock Star is definitely more interested in sex than drugs or rock ‘n’ roll, although it never flirts with NC-17 status. The hard stuff is kept off-camera, and Chris’ puppy-dog attitude toward depravity keeps things lighteven when he’s practicing saying, “I eat a lot of pussy,” the press-conference explanation for his vocal prowess suggested by Steel Dragon guitarist/mastermind Kirk Cuddy (Dominic West). When the band goes on the road, Emily tries to fit in, but she can’t accept the legions of groupies Chris is expected to entertainor having to ride in a separate limo with the band’s wives and girlfriends (who include Rachel Hunter, one of Rod Stewart’s exes). But then Aniston is never convincing as a hair-band enthusiast anyway; she seems too refined for either Steel Dragon fandom or Chris.
Rock Star is not exactly refined, but it shares some of Emily’s detachment. Director Stephen Herek, whose previous credits include The Mighty Ducks and 101 Dalmatians, seems to have enjoyed returning to the different sort of animals he celebrated in his early hit, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Still, he can’t quite commit to heavy metal. To prove it’s the ’80s, the movie slaps Talking Heads and Frankie Goes to Hollywood on the soundtrack, and when Chris quits the band, his new ensemble features acoustic guitar and cello. Any metalhead who switches his role model from Rob Halford to Richard Barone in less than an hour is clearly not a true believer. Rock Star is likable, but it would have been more compelling if it had truly accepted metal’s appeal. A 30-second clip of Heavy Metal Parking Lot provides more headbanger passion than Chris’ entire career. CP