Cinema Salvation is a romantic comedy that takes a light look at what happens when a young filmmaker’s failed engagement becomes the source material for a screenplay that’s a little too close to home for everyone involved. When the script gets picked up by a small production company and his life and career take an immediate upswing, he welcomes the idea of simultaneously creating a documentary of the experience. Things start to fall apart straight away though as the pressure of production and unspoken feelings for the girl who left him at the altar force him to face the consequences and the camera head on. Based on actual events, shot on a shoe-string budget with the usual low-to-no-budget idiosyncrasies, Cinema Salvation offers an insider’s look at romance and the movies and the collateral damage of love, loss and videotape.
Writer/Director, Producer/Editor and Casting Director Mike Cohen makes a strong effort to bring this film together and accomplishes some interesting things but he’s stretched too thin to be entirely effective. It is refreshing to see a multi-layered comedy with fairly detailed characters in a production of this size, a decision that can spell disaster when pitting lighter, PG friendly films like this against their overt and in your face counter parts. I suppose we can credit, or blame the popularization of vulgar physical comedy on Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) and Bobby Farrelly (Something About Marry; Me, Myself & Irene) but a closer look reveals the trend actually goes even further back to John Hughes and others. The trouble is not so much in the prevalence of such themes as it is with their dominance and consequently films that do not follow in similar fashion have a difficult time satisfying mainstream sensibilities. Where Cinema Salvation ultimately succumbs to its shortcomings, outside a tangled pace and reliance on ordinary for the sake of local color, is in the documentary “film within a film” structure that is more confusing than clever. The scenes that masquerade as the documentary take us out of the action and reduce the story to stagy, cramped confessionals where the actors stumble through unnecessary dialog and artificial setups. By the time we get through these scenes all sense of the story world is gone. Where do these people live? What is going on around them that is informing the story? Cohen relies too much on the audience accepting the familiarity of this reality television spin off (the closet confessional was an integral part of the long running television series “The Real World” that first appeared back in 1992) and when it doesn’t operate as it should, it becomes a real problem. I like the idea of positioning the main character between the loss of his fiancé to her faith, namely Jesus, and his inability to get over the fact that she left him as the main narrative through line. The juxtaposition of his personal life and his career and how they are inextricably linked is what makes the story compelling. The problem is we don’t ever get enough of this conflicted emotional turmoil and the scenes between the characters fighting over the movie don't come together except as a matter of plot necessity.
The cast is populated with familiar and not so familiar indie actors and young hopefuls. Like most independent films the cast and crew wear many hats, working in front of and behind the camera, and most have careers elsewhere. Ryan Scott Self (Greg) is also a writer and producer, among other things and started his career in 2006 when he moved to L.A from Missouri. You might recognize Courtney Gains (Courtney) from a prolific career that includes many appearances on television and in films; his first role was as Malachai in the cult favorite Children of Corn. Carson Aune (Alex) first appeared in The Dark Path Chronicles on television in 2008 and subsequently landed a handful of minor roles. David Bickford (Pastor Ed) gained his first national recognition as “Books Dalton” in over 150 commericals as the spokesman for B. Dalton Bookstores before going on to work in television and film in L.A. David Alan Graf (Dean) has a staggering 160 film and television roles to his credit, including the films Bang and Pups to which he attracted the praise of critic Roger Ebert.
Fortunately Mike Cohen sidesteps toilet humor and trash-talk, puts emphasis on character-centered storytelling and isn't afraid to explore difficult themes, albeit more superficial than substantive. The documentary element is most problematic overall and while there is a familiarity to the 'spill your guts to the camera', reality television model, it only gets in the way of what is the most interesting part of the story - that is the relationship between the fledgling filmmaker and his ex-fiance. Cohen would have been more successful incorporating their fractured relationship into the story so that we care about them coming to terms with what happened. The flustered moments of awkwardness and embarrassment are less stylized than they could be and for better effect, the humor is more comedy of errors for the sake of laughs than character building but indie fans and audiences less interested in complicated narratives and more fleshed out characters should find something to enjoy.
Cinema Salvation takes us on a sluggish story that is complicated by a problematic structure that gets in the way of exploring the intersection of two otherwise interesting dichotomies - “how can two people with opposing religious beliefs compromise in order to be together, and is it ever a good idea to make a movie about your personal life experiences that include other people who don’t share your enthusiasm?” Somewhere in the middle ground of serious and funny, dry wit fueled everyday ordinary, Cohen strikes up with a young hopeful filmmaker and while there are moments of curious subtext used to get at the implications of religion and relationships, he isn’t sure how to convey this in an articulate, cinematic way. The result is a film that takes entirely too long to arrive anywhere and once it does leaves the characters and the audience in an unsatisfying quandary.
What do you think of Cinema Salvation
Share your opinions on our forum