With the countless number of romantic comedies focused on how difficult it is for a woman to find a good man, it’s incredibly refreshing to see one where the tables are turned. In “Save The Date,” Lizzy Caplan stars as Sarah, a struggling illustrator who keeps herself afloat by managing a local bookstore. After dating her boyfriend Kevin (Geoffrey Arend) for two years, she has hesitantly agreed to move in with him to take their relationship to the next level. Kevin is the singer in a two-man indie band called Wolf Bird — because all indie bands have Wolf in their name — whose drummer Andrew (Martin Starr) is engaged to Sarah’s sister Beth (Alison Brie). Their first night as cohabitants looks like romantic bliss as the couple tenderly slow dances together while Sarah warns that she will be a horrible roommate, messy and forgetful. Kevin is smitten anyway and despite the warnings of friends that he may be moving too fast, he hatches a plan to propose to Sarah during the final Wolf Bird concert before he embarks on a nationwide tour. But his spur-of-the-moment gesture goes horribly awry and Sarah storms out leaving the entire embarrassing incident captured on YouTube.
The next morning Wolf Bird sets off on their tour despite Kevin being in a near-catatonic state of shock, and Sarah moves out, effectively ending their relationship. Almost immediately, she’s pursued by Jonathan (Sundance hero Mark Webber, who starred in 3 films at the festival this year), who knows her as the “bookstore girl” and has harbored a crush on her for a while. And this is where the film gets interesting because with almost no time elapsed at all, the two begin dating seriously. Conventional movie logic dictates that either Kevin or Jonathan must be the bad guy — so that the other can be Mr. Right — but neither are. Kevin is still madly in love with Sarah so it kills him to think that had he not jumped the gun on the proposal, he would still be with her. Seeing Kevin’s unhappiness makes us distrustful of Jonathan but he’s a gentleman as well, offering Sarah her space because of her recent breakup. But it’s Sarah who takes action and soon the two are engaged in a wild, passionate love affair. Jonathan is warned by everyone, including Sarah, that she may break his heart but he proceeds anyway. And how could he not? She’s talented, beautiful and elusive emotionally, a quality that almost always acts to attract rather than repel the opposite sex.
By contrast the relationship between Andrew and Beth is — as things often tend to be a few years in — more comfortable, rather subdued romantically and fraying a bit around the edges with tension caused by the stress of having to plan their wedding. It’s passion vs. pragmatism and the different stages of a relationship, which is partially why Sarah is terrified of being tied down. She doesn’t want to be like Beth. Caplan and Brie have a convincing chemistry together as sisters, with Caplan embodying the artistic, motorcycle-riding, commitment-phobe while Brie is the organized, responsible Type-A. The actress portrays Sarah as a complicated character without losing the audience’s sympathy, which is a tricky balancing act when you spend half the film breaking nice guys’ hearts without any signs of remorse. Between this and her comic manic turn in the other Sundance wedding-themed comedy “Bachelorette,” Caplan is really having a breakout year. After a few years of exceptional supporting work on “Mad Men” and the cult-comedy “Community,” Brie also shows herself to be a more than capable of taking on a larger role here. Starr and Arend deliver some solid work too (their scenes together as Wolf Bird are highlights) though the bulk of their screentime is in the first half of the picture and Webber manages to embody the ultimate nice guy without coming off like a total wimp.
Michael Mohan (“One Too Many Mornings”) directs from a script he rewrote by Egan Reich and comics artist/writer Jeffrey Brown (whose drawings appear throughout the film as Sarah’s). Instead of a mix-and-match form of stock characters and situations, “Save The Date” asks a question not heard often enough in Hollywood: “Why can’t a rom-com be based around actual human feelings?” While it doesn’t dig deep enough to really get under your skin, the picture is still a respectable, highly entertaining effort with an endearing ensemble cast (each with their own cult following) headed up by two strong performances by Caplan and Brie. Light in tone without being insubstantial, this is what more romantic comedies should aspire to be. [B]