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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review: Save the Date (2012)

* *

Director: Michael Mohan
Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Mark Webber, Geoffrey Arend

Save the Date has a great cast and a strong premise. Its characters, though somewhat self-obsessed, are at least believably so, and there's a ring of truth to a lot of the character moments in the film. The flaw is in the execution, in a narrative overstuffed with contrivance, and which strains to force its characters into situations of increasing distress, as if hopping from crisis to crisis is more interesting than watching them deal with just one. Still, it has its moments, even if they are a little few and far between.

Save the Date is about two sisters: Sarah (Lizzy Caplan), who fears commitment, and Beth (Alison Brie), who is in the midst of planning her wedding to long-time boyfriend Andrew (Martin Starr). Andrew is in a band with Sarah's boyfriend, Kevin (Geoffrey Arend), who has just bought a ring and plans to propose to Sarah during a concert. That he thinks this is even a passably good idea shows how little awareness he has of where Sarah is at, given how hard a time she's having just moving in with him. After talking it over with Beth, who emphasizes to him what a disastrous idea it is, Andrew talks Kevin out of the plan but, after a few drinks and high on performing, Kevin decides to go ahead and do it anyway, asking Sarah to marry him and then getting publicly dumped (to make matters worse, video of the incident ends up on the internet). Sarah moves out and starts trying to move on, while Kevin wallows in post-break up malaise, holding out hope that he and Sarah can somehow repair their relationship even after he learns that she's started to date someone else.

The other man is Jonathan (Mark Webber), a customer Sarah knows from the bookstore where she works and who was at the club the night Sarah was proposed to and fled. They begin dating and quickly fall into what for Jonathan is love, and for Sarah is something a little less defined. Things are complicated because of Beth's relationship with Andrew, and his relationship with Kevin, and the fact that Sarah and Kevin will be forced into each other's orbit due to the wedding. Sarah's new relationship starts to cause a rift in her relationship with Beth, particularly after the issue becomes compounded by an unplanned pregnancy. With Sarah's life lurching out of control (on top of everything else, her beloved cat also runs away), Beth begins to have doubts about her own relationship - or, at least, the marriage part of it - doubts which Kevin shares, though he seems reluctant to discuss them with Beth. Everyone's life and relationship starts to upend as the film moves towards its conclusion - and yet Save the Date ends with little more than a shrug, so what was it all for?

On a narrative level, Save the Date has problems, not least of which is the pregnancy subplot which doesn't just feel tacked on, but mildly insulting. The film pays lip service to the notion that Sarah would consider having an abortion, but any tension or complexity the film might have gained from this section of the plot is undercut by the knowledge that the film doesn't have the courage to seriously explore the topic. It's too modest in its ambitions, and too soft at its core, to be that kind of film. That's not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, it's just bad when a film like this half-heartedly plays with the idea that it might be something else as a means of biding time. The resolution of the film - which includes a Breakfast at Tiffany's moment regarding the cat - is just too easy, too neat in spite of the open ended quality of its final scene. Save the Date isn't lacking for ideas, and it's pretty good at setting up conflict, there's just not a lot of follow through.

All that said, there are things about the film that work, mostly related to the cast. Caplan and Brie are more than believable as sisters, most of their interactions featuring a deft mix of exasperation and affection and a palpable sense of shared history. One of the interesting things about the way their relationship is portrayed is how they both seem to see themselves as strict archetypes - Beth is the "responsible" one, Sarah is the "flighty" one - and behave accordingly in their interactions with each other, while those around them seem to see the opposite. Andrew accuses Beth of behaving immaturely towards Sarah after Sarah's big revelation, and Beth and Sarah's parents reveal their impending separation to Sarah, while keeping up appearances for Beth because they don't think she's ready to deal with it. There is actually a lot of potential depth built into this story, it's just a shame that the film doesn't make the most of what it has.

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