Editor’s note: Save the Date arrives in theaters this Friday. RSVP now with a re-run of our Sundance review, originally posted on January 25, 2012.
It would be foolish to deny that there is a certain kind of “Sundance romance” film – minor affairs that chronicle the beautiful and directionless as they stumble through the motions in an attempt to find something real. Most of the time, these films take place somewhere in East Los Angeles (Echo Park, Silverlake, Los Feliz), and usually there’s someone in a band. There is always a bevy of navel-gazing that occurs. Meeting those criteria for this year’s festival is Michael Mohan‘s Save the Date. The film centers on a pair of sisters (Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie, charmers both) who have very different expectations of and desires for love. Caplan’s Sarah is a commitment-phobe who is about to move in with her long-term boyfriend (Geoffrey Arend as Kevin), while Brie’s Beth is about to marry Kevin’s best friend and bandmate, Andrew (Martin Starr).
While Kevin is certifiably crazy for Sarah even after two years together, she remains oddly standoffish, even as they begin to set up a home together. Meanwhile, Andrew is cagey about finalizing wedding details with Beth and, in turn, Beth feels unsupported by everyone around her. When Kevin proposes to Sarah in the middle of a show with his band (Wolfbird, of course), with Andrew amusingly trying to stop him from behind his drum kit, she freezes up due to equal parts shock, embarrassment, and utter dismay. And then she bolts. Sarah’s commitment issues have finally reached their dramatic (and inevitable) conclusion, and Kevin sets off on tour with Andrew, heartbroken and alone. Not so heartbroken, Sarah almost immediately takes up with a sexy customer from her bookstore, Mark Webber as the charming Jonathan. All the while, Beth looks on disapprovingly, resentment for her sister eating away at her.
It’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds, but it’s also not very funny or light. The cast of Save the Date has a solid working chemistry with each other – Caplan and Brie quite believably portray a thorny sisterly relationship that’s still punctuated with love, Starr and Brie work quite wonderfully as a couple, and both of Caplan’s suitors’ ardor for her feels genuine – and all that natural and charming chemistry certainly help the film clip along.
And yet, all of the film’s stars are best known for their copious comedic talents, and all of that natural ability is nearly totally wasted here. Mohan seems instead to be going for wrenching honesty with Save the Date, and though he occasionally makes a few choices that smack of real-life decisions and consequences, none of it is particularly compelling or engaging. The film briefly touches on different dramatic situations that might have given it more weight (should Mohan have decided to really go for full-throttle drama here) – such as the revelation that the girls’ parents are separating, or that their mother isn’t interested in helping Beth with her wedding, and the issue of the boys constantly going on tour – but none of those are ever appropriately mined for their obvious worth. Save the Date is both not quite funny and not nearly serious, instead inhabiting an awkward middle ground that leaves it feeling undercooked and rudderless.
And while Caplan and Brie are both just lovely here, their Beth and Sarah are simply presented as is, and we never understand why they are the way they are (even meeting their somewhat awful parents doesn’t quite help). While their characters are not precisely one-dimensional, neither of them is especially deep, and Save the Date suffers because we never know the stakes of anything we’re meant to want to save – least of all its leading ladies and their loves.
The Upside: Lizzy Caplan is an engaging lead actress and she strikes up appropriate chemistry with both Arend and Webber. The film frequently feels honest and true, and doesn’t go for the most traditional of choices.
The Downside: Despite a strong comedic cast, the film isn’t particularly funny. Save the Date is a typical Sundance romance that doesn’t ever set itself apart from its brethren.
On the Side: All of the film’s original artwork is by Jeffrey Brown.