Editor’s note: This review was originally published at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Bleecker Street releases the film in select theaters on Friday, October 2, with a digital rollout to follow on Tuesday, October 6.
Things that are important to Su: her collection of internet browser tabs, her trusty cell phone, her lackluster job. Things that are important to Jack: his sourdough starter, his trusty cell phone, a brand-new crystal to clutch when things are hard. The definitely millennial, decidedly Brooklyn, and vaguely hipster couple are as “very online” and plugged in as anyone, but just how connected are they?
Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson’s amiable “Save Yourselves!” knowingly digs deep into the long-time couple’s obvious ennui — cradling their iPhones like babies, they’re prone to announcing they want to be “better people,” which maybe involves, like, I dunno, going vegetarian again? — and pulls out a winking contemporary comedy with a generous dash of cutesy sci-fi weirdness. And while it doesn’t quite stick the landing, the zippy journey there is fun enough to justify the winding road there. (Bonus: incredibly cute, very murderous alien beings).
Convinced — and rightly so — that their relatable obsessions with their phones and their laptops and the dueling ease and evil of the internet at large is keeping them from being better people (and a better couple), Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Reynolds) cook up a plan to save themselves. They’ll turn their phones off, albeit temporarily, to head out on a week-long trip to upstate New York in hopes of growing closer, healing their broken brains, and reconnecting with something (anything) that doesn’t have a power cord attached to it.
Mani and Reynolds are charming together, dead funny and terribly cute, and while Su and Jack are imagined as prototypical Brooklyn hipsters, the film’s stars bring a true sweetness to their characters. Su and Jack’s aims — stay off the internet for a week — are small-scale and a little silly, but it’s hard not to root for them, unequipped as they may be for what’s to come. Su and Jack are woefully stunted when it comes to adult matters — at one point, Jack confesses that he has “no idea when a bathroom is dirty!,” with Su volleying back with an absolutely horrifying reveal about what she does with her used contact lenses — but they are worth rooting for, and the deep sense of goodness that pervades even their dumbest ideas helps drive the film forward into darker spaces.
One part “Independence Day” (with decidedly lo-fi, yet quite inventive alien interlopers), one part “While We’re Young” (the Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried parts, the artisanal ice cream bits), the disconnected duo have no idea the rest of the world is under attack, until even their untrained eyes can’t ignore the weird “critters” zipping around outside. Fischer and Wilson have plenty of fun with their premise, and they don’t try to obscure it to build tension: savvy audiences will see the signs early that Su and Jack’s trip is about to be interrupted by something far worse than text message alerts.
As the pair attempt to work through a series of decidedly offline tasks, from building a campfire (goes poorly) to canoeing (also poorly) and sharing their deepest secrets, something else is building just out of frame. Things reach a fever pitch when a shower-set argument — complete with the kind of joke about travel sized toiletries that highlight both the filmmakers’ and their stars’ observational wit — pushes Su to check her phone, just as Jack is starting to realize the fuzzy “poof” in the living room isn’t just a kicky accessory.
What are two semi-adults with no reasonable skills to do? As Jack whines about his lack of traditionally masculine skills and Su freaks out over their family and friends, the pair prove to not be as helpless as initially suspected. They figure out what the “poofs” like, where they might be coming from, and even unearth a solid weapon (compete with attendant argument about becoming “gun people” in the face of so many statistics about how dangerous it is to have a gun in the house; they are millennials, after all).
While the first half of the film zips along with amusement and abandon, “Save Yourselves!” can’t quite keep up the pace and quips once Su and Jack get hip to what’s going on. Sequences involving ill-conceived go bags and an uproarious wide shot involving Su’s struggle with a stick shift keep up the laughs, but the film gradually moves into darker territory punctuated by less inspired giggles. A new dimension to the poofs’ powers makes for visual pop, but mostly seems like a way to add a baffling psychedelic sequence that temporarily waylays Su, Jack, and an unexpected new friend.
Yet, the fact that Su and Jack really are good people and that particular facet of their character becomes more paramount to the film’s momentum than their bumbling mishaps is sweetly inspiring, a punch of realism in a otherwise light feature. The last ten minutes of the film might falter — one gets the sense that Fischer and Wilson didn’t know where to take their characters after such a snappy start — but it’s one still worth connecting with.
“Save Yourselves!” premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
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