There’s at least one inspired shot in Save the Date, an ostensibly au courant dramedy about—what else?—thirtysomething inertia. Having just paid a drunken visit to Kevin (Geoffrey Arend), the boyfriend she recently dumped after his very public and poorly conceived proposal, Sarah (Lizzy Caplan) is standing on a curb holding a toaster, her last remaining spoil from the apartment the couple used to share. From a low angle, director Michael Mohan holds tight on the appliance’s dangling cord before raising his camera to gaze on Sarah’s dissatisfied face. Indeed, this is a woman who is, in many ways, unplugged, as terrified of commitment as she is perpetually bemused. The clichéd antecedent to her clichéd go-getter sister, Beth (Alison Brie), Sarah has little interest in anything resembling the grown-up status quo, from career to long-term relationships. She’s cool with her modest bookstore job and her hip side gig as an aspiring illustrator, a point she strains to make in a scene set at an aquarium, delivering a line about the contentment of drifting fish. On one hand, it’s somewhat nice to see this post-recession, late-blooming archetype portrayed by a woman, as nearly every other film of this sort concerns a man with Peter Pan syndrome. But on the other, the gender swap largely falls short of refreshing the formula, and if anything, it marks a strike against women, as Sarah isn’t just flawed, she’s grossly unlikeable, steering a film that doesn’t know she’s the pits.
In fact, just about everyone in Save the Date makes for lousy company. A halfhearted bridezilla whose nuptials are fast approaching, Beth can’t even manage to be an enjoyable bitch, and her fiancé, Andrew (Martin Starr), who plays drums in Kevin’s band, is just your average cold-footed dude fretting over his lack of future sex partners. Kevin is a lovesick sad sack who starts pouring his woes into his music, and his rock-star exploits ring false, not least because he’s played by the guy best known for losing his shit as a sweaty dweeb in Super Troopers. The only person worthy of viewer affections is Jonathan (Mark Webber), Sarah’s humble rebound beau who somehow stays with her despite her irredeemable tics.
It might seem that Caplan has come a long way as an actress, but she’s nonetheless exhibiting a vexing professional funk, repeatedly playing the angry anti-babe whose irony has definitely lost its charm. Sarah is her least appealing creation yet, and what’s worst about the film is how it appropriates the character’s noncommittal selfishness to support its own quaint, anti-establishment themes. Also including a subplot about Sarah and Beth’s parents, whose impending separation is revealed while Beth is in the rosy throes of wedding planning, the film gradually insists that marriage really isn’t all its cracked up to be, rendering Sarah more influential sage than mercurial narcissist. Save the Date ultimately shoots for humanization by contending that all its characters are as admirably fucked up as Sarah, but just as the lead’s gender fails to effectively flip the script, her persistent stance as an exemplary, infectious heroine backfires too, suggesting a general, sluggish aversion to personal growth.