One particular scene in Save the Date embodied for me the charms of this sharp romantic comedy, directed by Michael Mohan. It takes place in the shower, where newly engaged couple Beth (Alison Brie) and Andrew (Martin Starr) are soaping up under the jets. Is it sexy? Is it steamy? Nope. As they are in nearly every waking moment, Beth and Andrew are having a passive-aggressive not-quite-an-argument about wedding plans—in this case whether they need a DJ or can just play a bunch of songs from Andrew’s iPod.
I loved this scene, and not only for its heartening suggestion that one day a Haverchuck could end up engaged to an Annie. The scene isn’t crucial—Beth and Andrew aren’t even the main characters of the movie—but it’s smart and amusing and neatly encapsulates the relatable problems of these extremely relatable people. With eight months still to go, their upcoming wedding has metastasized: Even once-thrilling moments like hopping in the shower with your honey are now as gray and dull as everything else, just part of the day-to-day grind of DJs, save-the-date cards, and place settings.
The movie’s diffident heroine, Beth’s sister Sarah (Lizzy Caplan), faces that same fate when her rock-singer boyfriend Kevin (Geoffrey Arend) proposes at the end of a sweaty club show. Sarah’s mortifying rejection of that proposal, in front of hundreds of “Wolfbird” fans, sets in motion Save the Date’s ambling plot. Kevin struggles with losing his girlfriend in the most awful, public way imaginable. (Audience video of the botched finale goes viral.) Beth and Andrew struggle with their wedding prep and what Sarah’s action means for them. And Sarah struggles, too, though she won’t admit it.
“I sometimes feel like perhaps I have life figured out,” Sarah claims, contrasting herself with her unhappy friends who are pursuing careers or love affairs or both. Sarah—freshly broken up, the unambitious manager of a bookstore, a sometime artist who panics at the idea of a solo show—is happy with her new life alone. Beth tells her she needs to grow up, but this isn’t exactly a distaff Apatow movie, with schlubby women learning to embrace adulthood like so many Seth Rogens. Instead Save the Date—written by Mohan, cartoonist Jeffrey Brown, and Egan Reich—is appealingly ambivalent about whether growing up is really such a great idea. Sarah, the movie suggests, might have the right idea after all.
Sarah falls into a rebound relationship with grad student Jonathan (Mark Webber), who’s been crushing on her from a distance and can’t believe his luck. Their scenes together are fresh and funny, especially their awkward but still fairly hot sex. (Hooray for Jonathan’s embarrassing boner and for the absurd-even-in-context line, “Your dick tastes like Merlot.”) But soon Jonathan’s becoming just as attached as Kevin once was, and Sarah’s not so sure that’s what she wants either.
Why are all these devoted, cute indie guys infatuated with Sarah? “She’s such an amazing person,” one of her suitors says to the other, but the movie struggles, at times, to make us see what they see in her. Caplan, beloved by fans of the canceled-too-soon series Party Down, delivers her dialogue in a sharp deadpan, and Sarah is prone to respond to compliments and declarations of love with cute dismissals. You might wish she would show some spunk now and then, but the movie makes clear that she pulls back just enough that others in her life—from the men chasing her to her needy sister—instinctively lean forward to fill in the space.
If all these plot points sound pedestrian, well, I guess they are. The few moments of high drama—fisticuffs, medical procedures—in Save the Date often feel out of place, and the screenplay swiftly undercuts them with half-assed wisecracks. Sarah spends her downtime drawing her friends and family in her sketchbook—the art is by Brown—and the figures she makes are not stylized or caricatured but just well-observed, scruffier versions of real life. It’s fitting that those same drawings adorn the opening and closing credits of this sweet and sympathetic movie.