Thursday, June 12, 2008

Review: Rock 'n Roll High School

Since I had waxed so poetic about seeing "The Road Warrior," at Enzian's last Cult Classic night two weeks ago and since my BFF is the biggest Ramone's fan ever, only death would have excused my absence from "Rock and Roll High School," and it would have had to have been my own. Good thing I wanted to go.
Three years ago at Enzian I'd seen "End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones," an illuminating documentary that showed just what a hard-ass Johnny was, how sensitive Joey was and played segments from Dee Dee's cripplingly bad rap video as Dee Dee King. Dee Dee King is the kind of person Dee Dee Ramone beating the shit out of in happier, simpler times.
"Rock 'n Roll High School" is a whole other ball game, a teensploitation flick with the usual 30-ish-looking-actors playing high school kids, the evil authority figure (played by the born-to-be-a-dominatrix Mary Woronov), the goofy teacher (which the late) Paul Bartel did so beautifully he could have easily been a character on "The Office") and the youthful-rebeliion-about-pointless-crap winning out at the end. The Ramones are the featured attraction of and while I have as much allegiance to them as anyone who was young and somewhat alert in the 80's, I have to say that the real star of the movie is P.J. Soles.
P.J. Soles ("Carrie," "Halloween," "Stripes") was a 70's / early 80's standout - you can't say "She was the Cameron Diaz of her day," because she had that one-of-the-boys quality, but she wasn't that glamourous. You can't say "She was the Jennifer Anniston of her day," because she had that girl-next-door thing but she wasn't that famous. She was charmingly pretty in a bright-eyed and wholesome way - but with a suggestion of happy kink about her - the kind of girl who would roll her eyes a sexual innuendo but who you suspect would be a tigress behind closed doors. Maybe she was the Rose McGowen of her day. That's the allure of P.J.
P..J is the life and soul of Rock 'n Roll High School as Riff Randell, the rebel DJ queen of her class, determined not just to go see her heroes, the Ramones and bring them the song she's written for them, but to get her whole class into the show as well. Of course there's a lot of teen-love-quandrangle intrigue, though a lot less sex than movies like "Porky's" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." Vincent Van Patten plays gorgeous bore in love with Riff and a shockingly young Clint Howard is the profiteering matchmater who plans to set him up with her.
Riff, however, only has eyes for Joey Ramone. "He's so tall and handsome," or maybe it was good-looking, but whatever it is, P.J. says it with the dreamy conviction of true love which made members of the audience LOL with ironic abandon. She should win a retroactive Teensploitation Oscar for this moment alone.
Don't get me wrong. I love Joey. Everyone loves Joey. I have been part of seances held by people who wanted to talk to Joey after his passing. But first of all, I'm not sure most people have ever seen his face and those who have will admit that he's no Viggo Mortenson. He might not even have been a Clint Howard. Anyway, appearing entirely convinced that Joey Ramone was Cary Grant, PJ Soles deserves a statuette.
If Joey's charisma didn't lie in his looks....well, it didn't lie in his eloquence, either. The few lines Joey does have when he finally meets his biggest fan are handed over with such a mush-mouth delivery that, I'm told by fans that they had to rewind the VHS half a dozen times before understanding what he says.
Nontheless, Joey was Joey and he had enough charisma to be a huge part of making that legendary band what it was and it was fun to see them being completely out of place in a teensploitation film. If Rock 'n Roll High School didn't have the script, the cast or the inspired look at teen issues that its peers did, one thing it has, was born to have, is the best soundtrack of any teensploitation movie ever made.

Check Enzian's calendar at for the next Cult Classic

Image of PJ Soles from

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