The indie romantic dramedy Save the Date — new to DVD, Blu-ray and digital this week — starts in awfully familiar territory.
Twenty-something Sarah (Lizzy Caplan) is a bookstore clerk and aspiring artist who's about to have her sketches premiere in a small gallery. Her boyfriend Kevin (Geoffrey Arend, Body of Proof) is the lead singer of an appropriately hip indie band. They've just moved in together.
Meanwhile, Sarah's older sister Beth (Alison Brie, Mad Men) is planning her own wedding to fiance Andrew (Martin Starr, Adventureland), drummer for said indie band. Both couples are on the verge of making major life commitments. They process their feelings by way of late-night conversations in studio lofts with hardwood floors and stacks of vinyl in plastic crates. There's a lot of hand-wringing about The Future and several variations on the phrase: "I'm about to spend the rest of my life with this person!"
I've developed a low pain threshold, over the years, for indie films about attractive big city creative types and their romantic problems. I understand that you're supposed to write about what you know, but c'mon emerging Los Angeles screenwriters. Can't you stretch just a little?
All that said, Save the Date does what it does about as well as it can be done. The film's greatest strength is the lead performance from Lizzy Caplan, the future movie star whose past credits include Cloverfield, Hot Tub Time Machine and the late, lamented Freaks and Geeks.
The lovely and talented Ms. Caplan is genuinely lovely and talented. Save the Date gives Caplan her first lead role and she digs in hard. Her character, Sarah, is a person in progress. She's afraid of making any kind of commitment to man or career. But Sarah is also capable of self-assessment. She knows that she's afraid, and that she has to change.
Caplan provides a depth of feeling that isn't always there in the script's relatively shallow circumstances and relationships. You can feel her panic when boyfriend Kevin makes a grand but doomed gesture to take the relationship to another level. You feel it again when a new man enters her life, the earnest and ostensibly loveable Jonathan (Mark Webber, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.)
And you feel for her yet again when she attends her gallery show and discovers that fear of failure is nothing compared to fear of success.
About halfway though Save the Date, a critical plot point raises the emotional stakes and the film picks up steam. Relationships deepen and shift. Director and co-writer Michael Mohan stages some nice scenes with Sarah and Beth's parents, who are coming out the other end of love and marriage.
The film delivers lighter moments too, including some funny material about the curious proliferation of indie bands with the word "wolf" in their name. The sex scenes are sexy indeed and feel casually authentic. Save The Date contains at least one immortal line concerning a body part that tastes like Merlot when it really, really shouldn't.
Save the Date has no hard surfaces or sharp edges, but it's a pleasant enough film and it really sticks the landing. There's an editing choice in the final scene that's precise to the millisecond, and sends the movie off on a pure high note.
Also New This Week:
Designed from the ground up to challenge and provoke, Quentin Tarantino's bold, bloody Django Unchained comes to DVD and Blu-ray with a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes. Tarantino refuses to do DVD commentary tracks on his own films, which is a drag, since the man can famously hold forth like few others in the business.
Sequel to the underrated 2009 horror movie, The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia seems to have a location confusion issue and gets my vote for the year's most unintentionally funny title.
The Criterion Collection has reissued director Alex Cox's 1980s punk-cinema classic Repo Man, starring Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez.
Angels of Sex, Dragon, Escapee, Future Weather, A Whisper to a Roar and — for you unrepentant Dana Delaney fans — China Beach: The Complete Collection.