Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
The time is the 1970s. Instead of heading right to school, we find young David and Eric hanging out near the broadcast antenna of the local radio station. With their transistor tuned in, David tries to follow along, picking out the notes on his weathered guitar. Some days the duo becomes a trio, joined by their fellow truant Jane. As they dream of the future they dream of it one filled with music.
20 years later, David (Alice) and Eric (Motsinger) and still playing music, this time serenading the cows on the dairy farm they work on. They’ve become an accomplished couple of musicians, writing their own songs and continuing to dream. Eric dreams of making the big time, while all David wants is to have his music heard. His motto: “when they start paying you for it stops being fun.” Eric would like to play a gig for someone other than the cows but David refuses to be in a cover band. Jane (Engleman) talks them into entering an original song in a local “Battle of the Bands,” which first off requires them to actually form a band. With a drummer added to the mix, and the cool band name “Rockness Monster,” they play the gig. They don’t win but they catch the ear of a record exec who tells them he can make their dreams come true. But he doesn’t tell them at one cost.
Written by first time director Showerman, “Radio America” is a film that tells the familiar message of doing what you want because you WANT to, not because you have too. Like Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” (or even Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do”) it features a lead character who would rather play HIS music for a few people than sell out to play packed stadiums. However, like “Famous’” Russell Hammond, “Radio America’s” David, despite his trepidations, does begin to enjoy the good life. When the band’s first single begins to sell, they embark on a tour opening for a band drawing 20,000 fans a night. Soon David and Eric find themselves living the rock and roll lifestyle, from hotel rooms full of groupies to spending a night in jail for a little hijinx. David and Jane have started a relationship but that is quickly tossed away thanks to the spoils of the road. Meanwhile, Eric has become insufferable, going so far as to invite a young woman calling in to a radio program to “dress slutty and come on down” for a visit. Is this the end of “Monster” (their new, shorter name)?
The cast is strong here, with Christopher Alice giving David the quiet innocence of a true artist, making art because he likes it. As things progress we see him fighting, and eventually losing, that innocence. Which is ironic because all he wanted to do was play music. As Eric, Motsinger gets to act out more. The band’s front man, he becomes the face of Monster, for better or worse. Left behind is Jane, who follows their exploits on the road from her small town bank job. Also turning in solid work is Read MacGuirtose as English Joe, the band’s tour manager and director Showerman himself, who excels as the record executive that signs and guides the band.
The original songs, many of them written by and co-performed by Mr. Showerman, are also well done. It can really take a lot away from a film when the same song is featured several times on screen. If it’s not a good song it takes you out of the film. The songs here, most notably the title track, are bona fide rockers. Surely a soundtrack CD is on its way!