save the date may be a charming romantic comedy, but it’s also something of a horror movie. In the film’s pivotal first scene, Sarah (Lizzy Caplan), a young bookish artist who has just moved in with her likable rocker boyfriend Kevin (Geoffrey Arend), is speechless when he suddenly proposes to her at the stage during a concert. Already feeling a little insecure about the whole moving in together thing, Sarah turns Kevin down, right there in front of all her fans. embarrassed, she leaves the concert, as the film shows him in a dark room backstage, gasping for air, terrified and practically unable to speak. Director Michael Mohan alternates between the two, but his cuts to Kevin seem to stick around for an unusually, even cruelly long time. they don’t, of course, but it feels that way: we take in the full scope of this young man’s angst and, for a moment at least, we’re no longer in the quiet land of romantic comedy.
save the date is a bland movie overall, filled with nice music tracks, likeable characters, and a narrative arc that leans toward optimism and forgiveness, but in its details, it betrays a emotional cruelty that distinguishes him. After the breakup, Sarah tells Beth (Alison Brie), her soon-to-be-married sister, that she’s happy to be who she is and that she doesn’t want a relationship to limit her; Even so, she begins dating marine biologist Jonathan (Mark Webber), a depressed, sympathetic, and only slightly stalker guy, a guy who was there at the concert when Sarah turned down Kevin’s proposal. Mohan intersperses the melancholy concerts and pathetic hookups of Kevin in love with Sarah and Jonathan becoming increasingly attracted to each other as they have great sex and talk about how perfect they are for each other. then, we can see a boy in love fall apart while, miles away, the girl who tore out his heart seems to find true love.
It might not sound like something anyone who’s been through a real breakup would want to see, but surprisingly, this unforgiving quality doesn’t seem like a miscalculation. (The movie was co-written by cult cartoonist Jeffrey Brown, whose work I’m not familiar with, but who is reportedly good at depicting awkward everyday situations. I think so.) We like all of these characters, and it’s a measure of the film’s accomplishments (and honesty) that we’re happy for Sarah. That’s not just because she’s our lead, but also because Caplan, an actress who has an uncanny ability to simultaneously convey toughness and vulnerability, perfectly portrays the character’s dull cluelessness. sarah doesn’t really know what she wants; she only occasionally realizes what she she doesn’t wants. she’s a mess without acting like one, which makes her a good stand-in for most of us in the audience. it’s an incredible performance, without ever seeming so.
actually, there is also another completely different plot. As Sarah tries to navigate the romantic chaos of Ella’s life, Ella’s sister Beth tries to stay focused on her impending wedding to Andrew (Martin Starr), the half of the band in which she plays Kevin, which of course further complicates things. a larger point is being made here: the two sisters are each on the cusp of something new in their romantic lives, and the film reveals a kind of unspoken horror at the idea of commitment. Well, not entirely unspoken: At one point, Andrew points out that once he’s married, the only time he won’t be with Beth is when one or the other of them is dead.
The engagement angle is interesting, but it’s still largely cerebral. Sarah’s breakup story is the most compelling thread here. (I saw the movie almost a year ago, at Sundance, and upon rewatching it, I was shocked to realize that I had completely forgotten about the entire Beth story). it’s certainly the angle that will hit closest to home for most viewers. save the date works best when it gets under your skin, and it does so when it captures the dizzying, part sadistic, part bittersweet middle ground of continuing to love someone while trying to move on to someone new. . It’s a kind of subtlety that movies, especially American movies, rarely do well, but this quietly unassuming and secretly brilliant little charmer pulls it off.