Reviews

'Save the Date' and Why Indies in the Aughts Shouldn't Mean Less Thoughts

Just because you can make a feature film, doesn't mean you should—especially if, as in Save the Date, you've got nothing to say.


Save the Date

Director: Michael Mohan
Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Geoffrey Arend, Mark Webber
Length: 97 minutes
Studio: Gilbert Films, Instinctive Film, Night and Day Pictures, XYZ Films
Year: 2012
Distributor: IFC Films
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language, and brief drug use
US Release date: 2013-04-16

Lizzy Caplan? Alison Brie? Martin Starr? Alison Brie? Well, that’s all I need to know. With that kind of cast—and yes, I know I listed Alison Brie twice—it’s hard for me to imagine how I wouldn’t enjoy Save the Date, a romantic comedy centered on a pair of sisters with opposite views on love and relationships. I love every one of those actors. I love romantic comedies, and breaking down the plusses and minuses of traditional marriage opposed to unmarried love is a topic ripe for discussion—especially in an independent production like this that can dig into every side of the issue and cultivate new thinking.

If only that’s what they did in Save the Date. Writer-director Michael Mohan’s film is as aimless and lost as its main character. For a film with such bold ideas about how relationships should work, it completely fails to make a case for any kind of successful partnership. The characters—with the exception of Martin Starr’s Andrew—are structurally flawed and morally shallow, thus making for an uninteresting 97 minutes and a massive disappointment, in spite of the prime pedigree in front of the camera.

Lizzy Caplan (of Party Down fame) plays Sarah, a manager at a local bookstore who’s dating Kevin (Geoffrey Arend) as casually as one can while the couple prepares to move in together. Thanks to a misguided talk with his band mate Andrew (Martin Starr) and a truly idiotic misreading of signals, Kevin gets it in his head that proposing to his commitment-wary roommate-to-be is a good idea. Her sister, Beth (Alison Brie), is dating Andrew and flips when she hears of Kevin’s plan. Andrew promises to talk him out of it, but it’s not enough.

The details of what unfolds should be important, considering the film sets Beth and Andrew’s impending nuptials against Sarah’s instinctual desire to remain a free spirit. The sisters butt heads ever so slightly, but in that unique, gentle way only people who’ve known each other their whole lives can. It may be realistic, yet it’s not exactly compelling. What makes it even less relevant is each character’s inability to articulate their position. I know it’s not easy to say why you think marriage is important and vice versa, but you better come up with more than a shrug if its your movie’s central topic. Each minor encounter adds up to very little, and it’s not just happening between the sisters.

Characters in Save the Date don’t change. Understanding is not gained. Lessons are not learned. Instead of being the independent-minded movie I wanted, where ideas are brought out and discussed by compelling characters, it’s an independent movie of the aughts. It seems the new “it” thing for smaller, low-budget movies to have fewer and fewer ideas to convey, thought to provoke. Unlike the lively '90s where we saw ambitious indie pictures like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and other films not made by Quentin Tarantino, the '00s seem to have brought out a downside for a boom that was only supposed to be for the better.

It’s probably just due to the oversaturation of the market, but that’s no excuse for lack of clarity. It’s the writer’s responsibility, when he sits down to pen a script, to have something to say. There are three credited writers on Save the Date, including director Mohan and cartoonist Jeffrey Brown. Brown seems to be the lead writer, based on the making-of feature told with comic strip illustrations, one of a few special features included on the DVD. I can’t help but wonder if his story would have played out better without the meddling of a second and third party. This story seems personal, and those are the ones always best left to the ones who lived it.

The other special features are a mixed bag. A director’s commentary is always a welcome inclusion, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Alas, the same cannot be said for the three minutes of deleted scenes—moments not missing from the movie. The outtake reel clocks in at a miniscule two minutes, and the music video, teaser, and trailer are all unnecessary considering the movie’s primary audience knows how to work YouTube.

3

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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