Shake, Rattle and Rock!
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My parents were children of the ‘50s, so I grew up listening to Ricky Nelson and Fats Domino and Elvis and The Big Bopper on Dad’s eight-track player. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed Shake, Rattle and Rock!, the rockin’ remake of a little-known movie from 1956.

Renée Zellweger stars as Susan, a bubbly, redheaded ‘50s teenager who lives for rock ‘n’ roll music. Every day after school, she tells her mother she’s going to the library—then she hurries out with her friends to dance on the local dance show, The 3 O’Clock Hop, hosted by Danny Klay (Howie Mandel). She and her friends even play in a band—and they’re convinced that they’ll be famous someday (if only they could find a place to practice). But then Susan’s mother and her group of June-Cleaver-like friends catch Susan dancing on TV during their afternoon game of dominoes. Shocked by Susan’s appearance on the show (where they actually allow black musicians to appear in the same room as their children!) and by her choice of friends—like the motorcycle-riding bad-boy, Lucky (creepily played by aging punk rocker John Doe)—Susan’s mother decides to put her foot down. Unless Susan cleans up her act, her mother vows to rip up Susan’s college applications and make her live at home and attend the local junior college.

When Susan’s friend and drummer, Tony (Max Perlich), finds a closed Chinese restaurant where the band can practice and perform, the battle for rock ‘n’ roll is on.

As soon as the opening credits rolled—over a fun, energetic scene with Zellweger lip-synching along to Little Richard’s “The Girl Can’t Help It”—I knew I’d enjoy Shake, Rattle and Rock! It’s not a serious drama by any means—and it doesn’t try to accurately portray life in the ‘50s. Instead, it plays with ‘50s stereotypes—satirizing the “perfect ‘50s housewife” who plays games with her friends while organizing book burnings, the James-Dean-like juvenile delinquent that all the girls love, and the over-the-top dance show host. It’s not deep. It’s not especially thought-provoking. And it’s not a high-budget Hollywood production. It’s colorful and bright, and it’s just entertaining—a quirky mix of Grease, Footloose, and Leave it to Beaver.

Zellweger plays Susan almost perfectly—except for the scenes when she’s supposed to look like she’s really singing. And other than forty-year-old Doe, who, as I mentioned earlier, was a scary choice for the role of dreamy teen greaser, Lucky, the rest of the cast just added to the fun. The roles of the team of anti-music mothers, especially, were played with panache—a little bit Donna Reed and a little bit Desperate Housewives.

Award-winning cinema it’s not. It’s not an educational film. It’s not an especially moving film. But Shake, Rattle and Rock! is just plain fun to watch. Check it out for yourself, and you may find yourself rushing out to the local music store, searching for some Fats Domino CDs of your own…

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