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NPR Arts & Life

'Save The Date': Something Borrowed, Not Much New

When she leaves her boyfriend, Sarah (Lizzy Caplan) quickly rebounds with Jonathan (Mark Webber).
When she leaves her boyfriend, Sarah (Lizzy Caplan) quickly rebounds with Jonathan (Mark Webber).

You might know Lizzy Caplan, eternal sidekick, as Jason Segel's girlfriend on television's Freaks and Geeks. Or as the struggling comedienne from Party Down, or the vampire vegan on True Blood, or from the movie The Bachelorette earlier this year?

If none of the above rings a bell, you must have registered her as the memorably belligerent alt-girl Janis Ian in the 2004 movie Mean Girls, which might not have become the best teen movie of the decade without her. Caplan's offbeat beauty often gets her corps-de-ballet casting, but she's long been overdue for the lead in a movie that expands her range.

So I wish there were a better showcase for Caplan's stopwatch timing and green-eyed pulchritude than Save the Date, a merely adequate addition to the raft of romantic comedies for those pushing 30 without adult lives to call their own.

Without recourse to Goth duds and studs, Caplan is down-to-earth-sexy but woefully tamped down as Sarah, a vaguely neurotic bookstore manager and graphic artist who moves in with her musician boyfriend, Kevin (Geoffrey Arend), without thinking through their compatibility or her own commitment issues.

<em>Save the Date</em> was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Elisha Christian / IFC Films
<em>Save the Date</em> was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

No sooner has Sarah bailed on that iffy arrangement than she takes up with the strenuously adorable Jonathan (Mark Webber), with whom she exchanges kooky banter and bodily fluids much too soon.

At the other end of the scale, Sarah's sister Beth (the very good Alison Brie) is so busy overworking the prep for her wedding that she's blind to the growing unease of her groom, Kevin's level-headed band mate Andrew ( Freaks and Geeks' Martin Starr).

Many plot contrivances follow, most of them designed to signal poor judgment by all parties to the maturation process. Sarah wanders into her ex's apartment because she needs somewhere to sleep off a bad night on the town, and lo! There he is, spoiling for a fight.

Punches are thrown at intervals; the ante is upped by an unwanted pregnancy; the sisters go home to Mom and Dad only to soak up a troubled parental vibe that fairly screams the topic question for them both: Namely, how are they supposed to become functioning adults when even the putative role models are coming undone?

Produced by a company credited to multimillionaire Michael Huffington, Save the Date has the vapid, beige feel of an off-the-peg product made to exploit a niche market rather than a film with something on its mind about what it means to make the jump from youth to adulthood today. The movie is directed smoothly enough by Michael Mohan (One Too Many Mornings) from a script he rewrote by graphic novelist Jeffrey Brown, whose artwork becomes Sarah's and plays a complicating role in the plot.

Save the Date occupies a bland space between standard rom-com — in which a light bulb pops on in the third act, causing overgrown children to mature overnight — and the riskier work of mumblecore-style practitioners like Aaron Katz, Lynn Shelton or the Duplass brothers, who thrive on irresolution and explore uncertainty as the defining condition of what pundits are calling "emergent adulthood." "We're all f- - -ed up!" one sister tells the other, "and that's OK!" So it is, but that's as far as light bulbs go for this nebulous crew.

More indie-film glamorous than they are interesting, Sarah and friends seem to have no trouble drumming up fancy work gigs or exhibition space in trendy galleries. They land apartments with hardwood floors in a trice, and for all the rebel talk and existential hand-wringing, they do nothing more radical than slow-dance in their underwear, murmuring cute nothings into one another's shoulders. Parental fallibility aside, no wonder they're stranded in young-adult purgatory.

"She's an amazing person," one besotted Sarah-suitor reverently breathes to the other, but Save the Date asks us to take Sarah's virtues on trust. Given that Caplan and friends are so much stronger than their vacuous characters, one wants to say, "Fair enough: Now show me how."

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