I just adored Save the Date. I wish I had a more eloquent way of saying it, but I just want to be straightforward, because this is a straightforward romantic comedy. What? you gasp. A rom-com that’s not dictated by the heroine’s tiresome quirks or a contrived plot? Yes, Michael Mohan‘s second feature film is a delight and possibly one of my favorite movies of 2012. It also marks the transition of star Lizzy Caplan from comic relief to legitimate leading lady.
The plot of Save the Date sounds like it could be a romantic drama from your group of friends: Despite moving in with her boyfriend Kevin (Geoffrey Arend), Sarah (Caplan) breaks up with him after he hastily proposes to her at his band Wolf Bird’s concert. Further complicating the break-up is the fact that Sarah’s sister Beth (Alison Brie) is engaged to Kevin’s bandmate Andrew (Martin Starr). While Wolf Bird is on tour, Sarah winds up in a rebound relationship with the adorable Jonathan (Mark Webber), who’s long crushed on her.
Sarah is the center of this group because it’s her story, but she doesn’t command the situation the way an archetypal Manic Pixie Dream Girl would. The movie is about her confronting her shortcomings, and there isn’t some clear solution that’s easily visible from halfway through. That’s why Lizzy is such a smart choice: She’s engaging and elusive enough that you can see why men love her, but she’s also acerbic and self-deprecating. You feel like she’s more your friend living out a dilemma, rather than some completely unrelatable heroine.
In her Reddit AMA yesterday, Lizzy said that she chose the role because “I read the script, and fell in love with its honesty and humor.” No coincidence that those are the two greatest assets of Lizzy’s performance in the movie. From the first scene, we see how self-aware Sarah is: She and Kevin have just moved in together and are slow dancing in their underwear while she murmurs about what an awful roommate she’s going to be. Her demeanor is an odd mix of toughness and vulnerability.
Over the course of the movie, as Sarah moves between relationships, we witness her range from coldly self-preserving to manically confused to so happy with where she’s landed. (She’s a graphic artist, though the tender illustrations actually come from cartoonist and co-writer Jeffrey Brown.) I would never say that Lizzy has played one-note characters, because I can’t think of a role she’s done that I haven’t liked. At the same time, she has embodied some pretty wacky characters, from Gena in Bachelorette to Janis Ian in Mean Girls. In Save the Date, she seems simultaneously comfortable in her own skin and jumpy, reflecting our own anxieties about our twenties and our love lives. She’s a comforting presence, but a mesmerizing one, too.
Of course, we can’t discount the rest of the cast. I would watch hours of Alison Brie and Lizzy Caplan bantering as sisters so prickly and warily tender with one another that Jonathan at first doesn’t realize they’re related. (Side note: All the Redditors want Lizzy to do a cameo on Community, and I agree.) I will continue to mention IndieWire‘s observation that the writers smartly avoid casting Jonathan and Kevin in the Good Guy/Bad Guy roles, instead showing how each loves Sarah and how determining your soulmate can simply be a matter of timing. Oh, and Martin Starr has really grown up since Freaks and Geeks and is fantastic here.
Many critics are calling this a “breakthrough” role for Lizzy, even though she’s been steadily working in TV and film since 2004. I would agree with the term, because it’s clear that she’s reached a new tier in her career. The woman who provided a good laugh on failed TV shows or who pops up in brief cameos can now carry a romantic comedy that doesn’t bullshit you. Whether you’ve been a fan of hers for the past eight years or only vaguely know her work, she’ll surprise you here.
I hesitate to call this the “best” movie, because what a confining title, and it’s not perfect. And yet, when I came out of the screening, my immediate thought was clear: This is the best movie about breakups, love, cats, weddings, bands, sisters, and good guys. At least, the best for where I’m at now, where many twentysomethings find themselves. So check it out on OnDemand/iTunes now — and in theaters December 14th — and see if you agree.
Photos: IFC Films