In the aftermath of so many wedding-centric romantic comedies, an alternative vision of the subgenre seems to be building: first Kristen Wiig and Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids appeared with a messier, raunchier take on a best friend’s wedding, then Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette went even darker; even The Five-Year Engagement focused more on its central relationship than a fairy-tale endgame. In these comedies, weddings are crisis points — not because of decisions about who to marry or how to stop the wedding, but of the quarter-to-mid-life variety.
Michael Mohan’s Save the Date is the lowest-key of these films, but it shares their more realistic, human dimension. It follows a young-ish woman who breaks up with her boyfriend when he proposes marriage as her sister prepares for her own wedding — to the ex-boyfriend’s bandmate and close friend. These movies feel familial, perhaps due to casting that’s like a comedy-pro mirror to rom-rom queens of yore like Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. For example, in Save the Date, the deadpan, slightly skittish Sarah is played by Lizzy Caplan, was also one of the girls in Bachelorette, while her more superficially together sister Beth is played by Allison Brie, also a sister to Emily Blunt in Engagement, and engaged to Andrew, played by Martin Starr, who worked with Bridesmaids director Paul Feig on his TV series Freaks and Geeks.
Two less recognizable faces, Geoffrey Arend and Mark Webber, play Sarah’s ex-boyfriend Kevin and possible new interest Jonathan, respectively. Webber and Arend are both pleasant enough, but they’re not unlike the indie version of the increasingly irrelevant big-studio rom-com dudes: a little slight compared to the charm and charisma of the women. Indeed, casting goes a long way in Save the Date: Caplan has become an expert at playing complicated, prickly, funny ladies, and Brie almost single-handedly keeps Beth from morphing into a monstrous caricature as she demands that others care as intensely about her wedding prep as she does. When it comes to writing her character, the movie is so dismissive of wedding/rom-com culture that it almost throws Beth overboard with it.
But if Beth is just shy of cruelty and if the characters’ problems in general seem a little internal and fussy, the screenplay by Michael Mohan, Jeffrey Brown, and Egan Reich also avoids the rom-com genre’s pitfalls, like grafting easy wish-fulfillment career triumphs onto a love story: Sarah, who draws cartoons in her spare time (cowriter Brown, a real-life artist, provides the appealing drawings), gets a small gallery showcasing her art, but she doesn’t quit her unglamorous job managing a bookstore (or even, it seems, yearn to). Even the love story is nicely tentative, as Sarah (and with her the audience) is unsure, at first, whether her ditching of Kevin was hasty or inevitable.
Mohan, Brown, and Reich also have fun with the dynamic between Sarah and Beth as family members who care for each other while not being particularly close. In one of the film’s funniest and most incisive details, Sarah and Jonathan go to dinner with Beth and Andrew, and Jonathan is on his way home with Sarah before he finds out that oh, right, Sarah and Beth are sisters, not just old friends who still feel a slight obligation to each other.
Maybe if bigger studios produced higher-quality romantic comedy-dramas on the regular, a movie like Save the Date would appear even more minor. As is, though, it’s a quick refreshment: a small glass of ice water on a table full of gunky diet sodas. And now that a series of movies have navigated the tricky world of making a non-superficial wedding-related romantic comedy, maybe similarly talented filmmakers will wander even further afield from the genre’s norms.
DVD extras include a commentary track, deleted scenes, outtakes, and a making-of mini-comic.