By G. Michael Dobbs
Two independent films are featured in this week's movie review column.
Save the Date
Hey, I've got a squishy softer side and a good romantic comedy is almost as welcomed in my DVD player as a horror or action film and I had high hopes for this film.
"Had" is the important word here.
Lizzy Caplin plays Sarah, a cartoonist and book lover who has dropped out of college to manage a books store. She's in a long-term relationship with a decent guy and musician Kevin (Geoffrey Arend) but she moves in with him with some misgivings.
Kevin, emboldened by their new arrangement, decides to publicly ask her to marry him at one of his gigs. His band mate Andrew (Martin Starr), who is engaged to Sarah's sister Beth (Alison Brie), advises against it and the result is the couple breaks up.
The movie subsequently is about Sarah meeting someone on the rebound, a nice guy named Jonathan (Mark Webber) and attempting to figure out her life. What does she want? Who does she want?
Naturally her angst spills over onto her sister who is already uptight about planning her own wedding.
My problem with the film isn't its lack of laughs it's really not funny but the end of the film that doesn't allow audiences to have any real resolution about Sarah or her situation, which is far more complicated by the film's conclusion.
I realize that open endings supposedly allow audiences to fill in the blanks themselves, but I've seldom cared for them and think instead it's just sloppy story telling.
Although Sarah's cartoons are supposedly important to her, the director and the writers don't seem to know how to integrate them into the narrative or use them as a visual punctuation to what is happening on screen.
"Save the Date" is well-intentioned filmmaking, but misses the mark it sets for itself.
Martin Donovan wrote, directed and co-starred in this half-congealed story of a once popular playwright, who has come to California to seek work, reunite with his lover and take care of his mother, but who winds up being taken hostage by his former neighbor.
One problem with this film is that Donovan's character, Robert Longfellow, is enormously unlikable. Another is that it takes a long time to get to the heart of the film in which he is taken hostage.
Donovan is recovering from a critical beating he has taken concerning his latest play. Already on the border of being estranged from his wife and children, he travels to Los Angeles to look in on his mom and to seek some quick writing work.
He is made an offer to re-write a script and meets with his former lover Emma Stiles, now a superstar actress played by Olivia Williams, apparently to write a script for her.
Longfellow apparently wants to save his marriage, but kisses Stiles. He needs the fast cash from the rewrite, but turns down the job. He is supposed to talk to his elderly mom about not living on her own, but really doesn't address that well.
He is a screw-up and as he wallows in his stupor Gus, the guy he knew from childhood decides to come over to hang out with Longfellow at his mom's house. Gus, has a bit of secret that Longfellow soon learns: he has shot and killed a liquor store clerk in a botched hold-up and the police have come for him.
Longfellow must now play whatever game Gus wants in order to get out of his mom's house alive.
This apparently is the part of the film where all is revealed, but Donovan, as a writer and director, takes way too long to get there. Frankly the conclusion of this film leaves very much to be desired.
David Morse steals the show as Gus, a messed up guy who understands that he has wasted his life. Williams is also solid as the superstar still in love with the playwright, but Donovan's character is so obnoxious that I had no sympathy for his situation.
Other critics called this film "a pressure cooker" of suspense. They don't get out too much.