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Sundance Review | Save the Date

There are precious few movies out there able to accurately portray the dichotomy of two sisters. Being one half of such a familial relationship, I’d venture to say that In Her Shoes takes a worthy stab. Save the Date does it better.

Directed by Michael Mohan and co-written by cartoonist Jeffrey Brown (along with Egan Reich and Mohan), Save the Date made me want to have my heart filled up and torn to bits, all at the same time. Among the throngs of relationship rom-com-drams flooding the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, this one stood out from the pack as being intensely sweet and human.

Sisters Sarah (Lizzy Caplan) and Beth (Alison Brie) are opposites — Beth is prim and analytical, Sarah is bohemian and artistic — but they share an endearing bond (and something of a secret, sarcastic language) easily identifiable to anyone with a sibling. Beth is busily planning her wedding to Andrew (Martin Starr), an obsession that Sarah greets with varying degrees of apathy. We’re first privy to the duo’s chatter as Sarah boxes up her belongings, including dirty dishes, which she claims she’ll just wash at the new place she’s sharing with Andrew’s band mate Kevin (Geoffrey Arend). As the ladies pack up the van (leaving a couch on the street with a sign that reads, “Free Couch — Slightly Haunted”), Sarah discusses her trepidation regarding the major life step (which Beth scoffs at, of course, living in a far more conventional head space than that of her sister).

We’re conversely treated to a discussion between Andrew and Kevin, wherein Kevin reveals he plans to propose to Sarah (much to Andrew’s dismay). Without fail, Andrew blurts the news to Beth, who agrees it’ll garner cataclysmic results when forced upon the already semi-spooked Sarah — but Kevin doesn’t listen. In a painfully public forum, he moves forward, and Sarah dumps him. When Sarah begins seeing Jonathan (one of her adorable, impressionable book store customers, played by Mark Webber), what ensues is the convergence of each character’s separate story as it shifts based on another’s decisions. The cast is well-matched enough that we believe this quasi-osmosis possible, and Caplan and Webber are absolutely dynamite together — their love scenes, specifically, are at once toe-curling sexy and snort-worthy silly.

The real star of the film is the dialogue: Playful, natural and alarmingly plausible, the actors banter off each other effortlessly. Caplan, specifically, is a substantial talent in the film, acting as its consistently vacillating centrifugal force, sucking the rest of the players into her wake. Brie also commendably nails her character’s arc; there are some painfully beautiful long shots of her incredibly expressive face, centering on her subtly shifting emotions to the point of discomfort. It’s not an easy thing for an actress to nail, but we’re with Beth all the way in these moments.

The film also features Brown’s artwork (by way of Sarah), serving as whimsical reminders — and in a very funny scene, fodder for a virtual stand-off between Jonathan and Kevin — of key moments of the film. Even the framing and shots are reminiscent of a graphic novel, utilizing the rule of thirds, bleeding light into corners. The characters move about their environs with the ease of a pen on paper; the atmosphere reads effectively lived-in.

Save the Date is a real achievement for Mohan, Brown and Reich. They not only managed to heighten their material beyond typical rom-com-dram fare, but they also compile a truly talented cast of on-the-cusp-of-major-stardom actors. The film has yet to be acquired, but I’m fairly certain it’ll find a home soon – Save the Date is too refreshing an entry in the genre to be overlooked.

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