The Herald Bulletin

September 22, 2011

Review: ‘Nova Rex’ revealing doc about hair-metal heyday

By Heather Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

— Big hair, heavy makeup and women's clothing.

An outrageous look was as important as talent or music in the hair-metal era, according to Kenny Wilkerson in “Nova Rex: Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy,” one of 15 films that will be shown during Saturday’s Homegrown Hoosier Film Festival at the Pararmount Theatre.

The film, directed by Dean Robinson and co-produced by Wilkerson, is an entertaining, 70-minute “rockumentary” about Nova Rex’s wild glam rock ride through the late 1980s and early ’90s. Filmed as bassist Wilkerson and guitarist JP Cervoni promoted the band’s greatest hits collection, “Then & Now,” in 2010, the 2011 documentary is a collection of interviews with both band members interwoven with video and photos from their heyday and augmented by a rollicking soundtrack of Nova Rex music.

The band’s experience is typical of an era defined by outlandish style, hard partying, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. And the first half of the film is highlighted by amusing but — given what we know about the antics of bands such as Poison, Twisted Sister and Mötley Crüe — not necessarily surprising anecdotes from the band’s exploits.

One of the first is the story of how Wilkerson, a graduate of Whiteland High School in Whiteland, Ind., joined the band. Wilkerson’s audition/interview took place with Cervoni hanging upside down in a closet ... wearing nothing but gravity boots. Fortunately, there’s no video clip of that exchange.

Neither is there much “evidence” of the sexual exploits of the band, for which Wilkerson is thankful. Had cellphone cameras existed in that age, there would have been quite a bit of incriminating material for the “Love the Band” segment. The film doesn’t shy away from the role sex played in the rockers’ lives and, instead, questions exactly who was using who in these encounters.

Cervoni poses another good question during the “Rockin the Look” segment. “How did we all end up looking like girls?” he opines more than once. As Wilkerson explains it, that was the look that got you noticed ... and got you the girls. It’s also what most of us remember from the era even as the songs fade from memory.

Perhaps the most intriguing segment comes toward the end of the film and details the demise of the hair-metal era.

Nova Rex, which had been playing in clubs in Florida, left the Sunshine State for Los Angeles when Florida’s economy began to decline. But the LA club scene soon changed as grunge rock rose in Seattle.

Knowing the emerging genre was the death knell for hair-metal, Wilkerson got the band to move to Indiana, where hair-metal had yet to give way to grunge.

Through Wilkerson’s tireless promotion on Indianapolis radio and TV, Nova Rex was able to prolong its run another five years.

But all good things must come to end. And when they did, life changed drastically for the members of Nova Rex. Wilkerson admits to needing help from “shrinks and medication” to deal with life outside the “bubble” of fame. And Cervoni relates his trouble with trusting women after years of girls clamoring for a piece of the spotlight. Their stories paint a startling picture of the band’s return to reality — one that few may have paused to think of before.

By the end of the 70 minutes, fans and even casual observers will have a greater appreciation for an era that is often dismissed for its flamboyance. “Nova Rex: Aint Easy Being Cheesy” clearly illustrates the period’s party-all-the-time mentality but also reveals the devotion of artists like Wilkerson and Cervoni to music that celebrated living life to the fullest.

“Nova Rex” will show at 3:45 p.m. Saturday at the Paramount Theatre, 1124 Meridian Plaza, Anderson. The festival begins at 10 a.m. For more information, visit