' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Satisfaction (1988)

Friday, September 02, 2016

Friday's Old Fashioned: Satisfaction (1988)

“Satisfaction” (or: The Last Time Scott Coffey Was Billed Before Julia Roberts) takes its title from the eminent Rolling Stones track, the one that this reviewer would humbly submit as the premiere embodiment of rock ‘n’ roll. And that is why the film’s title is so discouragingly ironic. Because “Satisfaction” is the furthest thing from rock ‘n’ roll. It was directed by Joan Freeman who played Elvis’s love interest in the semi-faux-classic “Roustabout”, and while Elvis was, of course, colloquially considered the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, “Roustabout”, for as much I love it, was drifting far from the shore of The Sun Sessions. So maybe Freeman didn’t know Rock ‘n’ Roll as well as she thought. Or maybe Freeman was less in charge than producer Aaron Spelling who likely knew those going out to see a movie on Valentine’s Day weekend 1988 were less interested in a film approximating, say, “Exile on Main St” getting recorded in Nellcôte, than a more romantic, less crazy “One Crazy Summer.”


The film centers on a band of just-graduated teenagers, The Mystery, fronted by Jennie Lee. She is played by Justine Bateman. And while Bateman can’t quite live up to, say, Lita Ford, any retroactive arguments that Julia Roberts showed more charisma than Justine Bateman would be wrong. Roberts, with her bubbly personality already approaching full bloom, is perfect in support as the band’s drummer, the one with a steady beau. Bateman, on the other hand, perhaps aided by the fact that she sought to leave air-headed Mallory Keaton, her beloved “Family Ties” character behind, opens the film with the air of someone with something to prove. Indeed, our introduction to Jennie is her graduation speech on account of her valedictorian status, though you should not assume that just because she went to class she wasn’t smoking before and after class in the girl’s room. “We can make the kind of noise that will wake this world from its stagnant slumber!” she declares, a burgeoning radical. It’s a promising mission statement, one suggesting that Jennie Lee wants to use The Mystery to not only land a recording contract but to put a dent in society.

This never quite happens. In piling in their beater of a van and driving up the coast to take a summer gig at a club in a resort town, “Satisfaction” gets distracted by the predictable plight of the club’s owner, the winningly named Martin Falcon (Liam Neeson). You know this guy. He used to be a big stinking deal in the music industry, but now he’s faded away, faded so far away he doesn’t even really have laurels to rest on anymore, and so when he sees Jennie Lee he sees a chance at rock ‘n’ roll resurrection. That might have still allowed for something decent if the movie wasn’t so enamored with the relationship that develops between Falcon and his possible protégé. It’s actually believable, given her feisty intelligence, that Jennie might go for an older man, but that is never discussed. This is just a conventional, creepy May-November romance that has no interest in examining the yawning gap in their ages.


What’s worse, this relationship becomes less about what Jennie wants than her inspiring Martin to re-engage with songwriting. While he gets off his arse and pens a new tune, Jennie is never really allowed to communicate through her own music. She is predominantly limited to covers of classic songs, some of which might be really good songs but feel out of touch with her character. I wanted to hear what she thinks! But what she thought seemed to get lost in her existence as Martin Falcon’s potential savior. Meanwhile, “Satisfaction” also gets bogged down in subplots for each band member. On one hand, this deserves bonus points, not simply shunting the supporting cast aside and giving them something to do. On the other hand, these tales feel un-filled in, often spackled over my montage, and lacking insight.

At first “Satisfaction’s”setting, a cushy resort town that appears to be somewhere in Long Island, full of country clubs and WASPy parties and beaches populated entirely by future hedge fund managers and cheerleaders who have taken the season off, appears to be readymade for a revolution, especially given the righteous furor that Jennie Lee invokes in the early scenes. Alas, the more time she spends there, and the more time she spends in Martin Falcon’s company, the more she settles into its unchallenging groove. You keep waiting for Jennie Lee & The Mystery to unleash hell, to stir things up, to go “Over the Edge”, but it never happens. She starts out as a punk, but by the end you fear that if she actually cuts a record it’ll just end up getting played on an elevator.

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