In Montreal, the Stone Rockers (in English, even if everything else in the movie is in French) are a struggling instrumental rock band. While the other members of the band want to bring in a vocalist, Dan (Simon Boisvert), their driven guitarist refuses. The bassist and drummer insist that the reason the band is failing has something to do with the absence of a lead singer. I’d suggest it had more to do with their bland Eighties guitar rock sound and the fact that Dan’s musical references are hip enough to include AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and Engelbert Humperdink. Apparently Montreal is the land that music forgot.
Finally, Dan breaks down and holds open auditions for a singer, hiring Mila (Diana Lewis) a masseuse without any singing experience. He also lets Sophie (Melanie Elliott) play keyboards at the insistence of her boyfriend Marc (Sylvain Latendresse), the Stone Rockers’ bassist. The band cuts a demo and after initial rejections they get signed by a sleazy promoter who changes their name to Venus De Milo (don’t ask why). One scene later, they’ve got a Top 5 album. Again, Montreal must be hard up for homegrown music.
But with fame comes discontent! And romance! And totally by-the-numbers predictability! Egos, alcoholism, and allegations of statutory rape lead to the band’s decline, a fall from grace which will be shocking to anybody who has never seen “Biography,” “E! True Hollywood Story,” or “Behind The Music.”
“Venus De Milo” reunites all of the Montreal-based talent behind “Stephanie, Nathalie, Caroline, and Vincent” with some of the roles switched around. Simon Boisvert again wrote the script and produced, with Diana Lewis taking the directing reins and co-writing. All of the major cast members remain in place.
“Venus De Milo” suffers from many of the same problems that plagued its predecessor. At 81 minutes, it’s too short for the plot to progress in organic fashion and even the brief running time is padded with two extended concert scenes. Every cut marks a major shift in the film’s emotional terrain, with relationships and characters flip-flopping from sequence to sequence. Nothing is allowed to develop and “Venus De Milo” follows the most predictable “rock film” tropes with hardly a cliché left out. Given the film’s truncated length and the fact that the music videos make up ten minutes of its length, it’s especially disappointing that the music is so lame. One character accuses the band of being just another Aerosmith knock-off, but they should be so lucky. Their final product is like synth-pop with extended guitar solos. It’s not a good mix and it isn’t at all believable that this group of middle-aged Eighties throwbacks could gain mass popularity no matter how retrograde Quebecois pop culture may be.
The major strength of Stephanie, Nathalie, Caroline, and Vincent was the characters, especially the lead Boisvert wrote for himself. “Venus De Milo” marks a step backwards, choosing plot over people. The film rushes by before any of the characters get any depth. The performers are again fine, but the actors have less to work with. If this group chooses to work together again, I hope Boisvert writes a lead for Melanie Elliott, who has the same sexy fresh-faced Canadian appeal of Mia Kirshner.
“Venus De Milo” features a minor improvement in production values, which is wasted by Lewis’s direction. The film seems to be almost entirely establishing shots without any close-ups. Scenes play out with little camera movement and no cutting to improve pace. The art direction is minimalist and suggests the film’s low budget, particularly in the two concert scenes, which are supposed to be in different arenas, but look like the same stage in the same darkened warehouse with the same ten people cheering apathetically. “Stephanie, Nathalie, Caroline, and Vincent” had an intimacy that prevented the budget from being an issue, while “Venus De Milo” keeps accentuating its cheapness.
“Venus De Milo” may be the first rock film which leaves you rooting for the band to break up.