Reviews

'Love, Wedding, Marriage': We Recommend Therapy

It's not the premise to Love, Wedding, Marriage -- and its strict romantic view that equates divorce with failure -- that is the movie's biggest flaw. It's the way the film uses its premise to indulge the worst romantic-comedy tropes.


Love, Wedding, Marriage

Director: Dermont Mulroney
Cast: Mandy Moore, Kellan Lutz, Jane Seymour, James Brolin, Michael Weston, Jessica Szohr
Length: 90 minutes
Studio: IFC Films
Year: 2011
Distributor: MPI
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release date: 2011-09-13
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You'd think Love, Wedding, Marriage director Dermot Mulroney would know a thing or two about romantic comedies. After all, he starred in My Best Friend's Wedding and The Wedding Date, two other wedding-related rom-coms. Instead, his directorial debut -- which premiered on Video On Demand before a brief theatrical run, followed by this mercifully featureless DVD release -- shows he picked up all of the genre's bad habits without learning what might be appealing about the rest of it.

The film follows Ava (Mandy Moore), a 28-year-old marriage counselor and newlywed -- one of those perky romantic-comedy heroines who appears to have an ideal life, complete with the perfect amount of quirks. (Ava compulsively consults her horoscope.) Her life is upended when her parents (played by Jane Seymour and James Brolin) announce their separation.

This development turns Ava into, for lack of a better phrase, an utter crazy person. You see, she's an idealist, an optimist, and a hopeless romantic. "Rhett Butler's never going to stick around," her father tells her with respect to her compulsive repeat viewings of Gone with the Wind. "They were just working at cross purposes," Ava replies with a sigh.

Even though she's PhD-educated and probably sees the dissolving of marriages constantly at her job -- no therapist has a 100 percent success rate -- and even after acknowledging that she shouldn't try and treat her family, Ava goes into frantic meddling overdrive. She devises schemes to get her parents together that would put The Parent Trap to shame. As her actions become more and more desperate, she finds herself alienating her new husband, Charlie (Kellan Lutz).

Yet it's not the premise to Love, Wedding, Marriage -- and its strict romantic view that equates divorce with failure -- that is the movie's biggest flaw. Instead, it's the way the film uses its premise to indulge the worst romantic-comedy tropes, scenes featuring zany speed-dating, bad karaoke, soap-opera-style revelations, a fake suicide attempt, schmaltzy third-act toasts, multiple uses of the phrase "once upon a time", dramatic revelations, and wacky marriage therapies, plural. Did I mention that Ava has a three-week deadline to save her parents marriage before their big, surprise 30th anniversary party that she refuses to cancel?

Love, Wedding, Marriage goes for broad, just-shy-of-slapstick humor. Only Mulroney doesn't have a feel for the right tone, rhythm, or look of a romantic comedy. In one scene, the marriage therapist that Ava sends her parents to -- played by Christopher Lloyd in the most disappointing cameo of his ever put to film -- has them run through some pre-therapy exercises that includes them hopping around and snorting air through their noses. Surely, this was supposed to be played for comedy.

In reality, there's nothing really all that funny about watching Jane Seymour and James Brolin flopping around on screen. It's almost more sad than funny. When Mulroney tries for some more directorial flourishes, he favors the more dramatic series of extreme close-ups, lingering ponderously on Mandy Moore's face.

Then again, there isn't much in the material to elevate with better direction. Much of the dialogue, written by Anouska Chydzik and Caprice Crane of the recent 90210 and Melrose Place reboots, is therapy-speak. People often say exactly what they feel. They talk about fulfillment, prioritizing, and validation. If there is a single least-funny word in the English language, it just might be "prioritizing".

If there's one saving grace to the movie, it's that for once someone acknowledges that the main character is acting deranged -- something that doesn't happen as often as it should in these kinds of movies. Unfortunately, there isn't much else going on with Charlie to make him a suitable enough oasis from the rest of the movie. You'd think that Mulroney, having been the man-candy in other romantic comedies, would want to make his leading man somewhat well-rounded. Instead, Charlie is all surface attributes with no depth. He's a vintner who also paints -- or is it that's he's a painter who has a day job at a vineyard? -- and he's not above taking his shirt off for a few scenes.

It's a relief that his wounded brooding is (mostly) quiet to balance out the rest of the film's mania, but it's not enough to save the film. Charlie gets the faintest of help from bad-girl Shelby (Jessica Szohr) and offbeat-best-friend Gerber (Michael Weston), the only two who manage to wring actual chuckles out of the script.

It's not clear why Mulroney decided that this was the story he wanted to tell with his directorial debut, or why he thought he was the best one to tell it. And, absent a commentary (or any other special feature besides a trailer), we get no insight. We can only recommend therapy.

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In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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