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'Save the Date' and Why Indies in the Aughts Shouldn't Mean Less Thoughts

Just because you can make a feature film, doesn't mean you should—especially if, as in Save the Date, you've got nothing to say.


Save the Date

Director: Michael Mohan
Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Geoffrey Arend, Mark Webber
Length: 97 minutes
Studio: Gilbert Films, Instinctive Film, Night and Day Pictures, XYZ Films
Year: 2012
Distributor: IFC Films
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language, and brief drug use
US Release date: 2013-04-16

Lizzy Caplan? Alison Brie? Martin Starr? Alison Brie? Well, that’s all I need to know. With that kind of cast—and yes, I know I listed Alison Brie twice—it’s hard for me to imagine how I wouldn’t enjoy Save the Date, a romantic comedy centered on a pair of sisters with opposite views on love and relationships. I love every one of those actors. I love romantic comedies, and breaking down the plusses and minuses of traditional marriage opposed to unmarried love is a topic ripe for discussion—especially in an independent production like this that can dig into every side of the issue and cultivate new thinking.

If only that’s what they did in Save the Date. Writer-director Michael Mohan’s film is as aimless and lost as its main character. For a film with such bold ideas about how relationships should work, it completely fails to make a case for any kind of successful partnership. The characters—with the exception of Martin Starr’s Andrew—are structurally flawed and morally shallow, thus making for an uninteresting 97 minutes and a massive disappointment, in spite of the prime pedigree in front of the camera.

Lizzy Caplan (of Party Down fame) plays Sarah, a manager at a local bookstore who’s dating Kevin (Geoffrey Arend) as casually as one can while the couple prepares to move in together. Thanks to a misguided talk with his band mate Andrew (Martin Starr) and a truly idiotic misreading of signals, Kevin gets it in his head that proposing to his commitment-wary roommate-to-be is a good idea. Her sister, Beth (Alison Brie), is dating Andrew and flips when she hears of Kevin’s plan. Andrew promises to talk him out of it, but it’s not enough.

The details of what unfolds should be important, considering the film sets Beth and Andrew’s impending nuptials against Sarah’s instinctual desire to remain a free spirit. The sisters butt heads ever so slightly, but in that unique, gentle way only people who’ve known each other their whole lives can. It may be realistic, yet it’s not exactly compelling. What makes it even less relevant is each character’s inability to articulate their position. I know it’s not easy to say why you think marriage is important and vice versa, but you better come up with more than a shrug if its your movie’s central topic. Each minor encounter adds up to very little, and it’s not just happening between the sisters.

Characters in Save the Date don’t change. Understanding is not gained. Lessons are not learned. Instead of being the independent-minded movie I wanted, where ideas are brought out and discussed by compelling characters, it’s an independent movie of the aughts. It seems the new “it” thing for smaller, low-budget movies to have fewer and fewer ideas to convey, thought to provoke. Unlike the lively '90s where we saw ambitious indie pictures like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and other films not made by Quentin Tarantino, the '00s seem to have brought out a downside for a boom that was only supposed to be for the better.

It’s probably just due to the oversaturation of the market, but that’s no excuse for lack of clarity. It’s the writer’s responsibility, when he sits down to pen a script, to have something to say. There are three credited writers on Save the Date, including director Mohan and cartoonist Jeffrey Brown. Brown seems to be the lead writer, based on the making-of feature told with comic strip illustrations, one of a few special features included on the DVD. I can’t help but wonder if his story would have played out better without the meddling of a second and third party. This story seems personal, and those are the ones always best left to the ones who lived it.

The other special features are a mixed bag. A director’s commentary is always a welcome inclusion, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Alas, the same cannot be said for the three minutes of deleted scenes—moments not missing from the movie. The outtake reel clocks in at a miniscule two minutes, and the music video, teaser, and trailer are all unnecessary considering the movie’s primary audience knows how to work YouTube.

3

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