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Prey For Rock and Roll

(2003) ** 1/2 R
104 min. Mac Releasing. Director: Alex Steyermark. Cast: Gina Gershon, Drea de Matteo, Shelly Cole, Marc Blucas, Lori Petty.

Jacki--the front-woman of a punk rock quartet--faces her fortieth birthday and a nagging Hobson's Choice: "bitter rock chick with a band, bitter rock chick without a band." Prey for Rock and Roll, the fictionalized account of rocker Cheri Lovedog's experiences on the fringe of the music biz, encapsulates the tribulations of bands who can only hope they're on the cusp of something bigger and better as they slog through small clubs, hauling their equipment and suffering indignities for a few bucks split four ways. Jacki's gender (female) and sexual orientation (bisexual) don't make her career any easier, but she keeps the faith.

Literally. Jacki's contemporary in the band is middle-aged lead guitarist Faith (Lori Petty), who happily nests with much-younger drummer Sally (Shelly Cole of Gilmore Girls). Tracy (Drea de Matteo of The Sopranos)--a dark alcoholic with a blackguard for a boyfriend--rounds out the group on bass. Each woman must face a prepackaged crisis, each crisis threatening the band's unity. If plot seems like an afterthought, that's because it was. Based on Lovedog's autobiographical stage show (which played NYC's legendary CBGB's), Prey for Rock and Roll was produced for film on the condition that the plot-deficient piece be fleshed out.

So we get a handsome man for hire (Marc Blucas of I Capture the Castle) as Animal, Sally's ex-con brother, who turns Jacki's eye from her long-term girlfriend. A climactic gig opening for X hangs in the picture's balance alongside a looming contract offer. Rape and childhood abuse are repeatedly invoked. A variety of tragedies strike.

If the film feels forced, it also addresses an intriguing, underrepresented subject--punk-rock "chicks" in the male-dominated music business--and addresses feminist issues earnestly. Prey for Rock and Roll fails to avoid the usual pitfalls--often-forced banter ("I've been in prison." "Did he just say prison?") and puzzling contrivances (one development would seem to definitively end the band, but doesn't)--but director Alex Steyermark gets the broad strokes right. Gershon, with her wide, pouty mouth in overdrive, anchors the film admirably and does all of her own vocals on songs by Lovedog and Stephen Trask (Hedwig and the Angry Inch).

At its best, Prey for Rock and Roll serves as a heady reminder of art's healing power and impetus to endure. Jacki says, "When I play, I feel safe"; indeed, a climactic song written furiously in answer to one of the plot reversals ("Every six minutes, someone says no") becomes a therapeutic anthem and a reminder of how women's issues are too often ignored and women's voices too often unheard. It's enough to make clear to the unconverted punk rock's emotional appeal, dig it or not.

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