With the film market more competitive than ever, indie film producers are increasingly turning to on-demand services from satellite and cable providers (like Time Warner), and web-based companies like iTunes and Amazon, as alternative methods of distribution. This can mean either the films show up ahead of their release in theaters (called an "ultra" release), or on the same day they open theatrically (referred to as a date-and-date release).
One of the positive results of change in the industry is that smaller films, which wouldn't normally receive a wide theatrical release, don't have to wait until their DVD/Blu-ray release to be seen outside of the major film markets. This past summer, the film "Bachelorette," starring Kirsten Dunst, received a fair amount of buzz by becoming the first movie to reach No. 1 on iTunes' on-demand chart before being released in theaters. Now that the method has proven that it can be successful, it's likely to become more common for smaller films to open through these unconventional channels.
"Save the Date," which began a limited theatrical run earlier this month, is one such movie. Starring Lizzy Caplan ("Cloverfield") and Allison Brie (TV's "Community" and "Mad Men"), the film is another in a recent spurt of films focusing on characters in the midst of that late 20s/early 30s panic of realizing that one is officially an adult, but not necessarily ready to be one. This early-life crisis period is getting a lot of attention right now, documented in recent films like "For a Good Time, Call..." and "The Five-Year Engagement" and popular TV shows like "New Girl," so it's clearly hitting a nerve with a certain audience.
"Save the Date" opens as Caplan's character, Sarah, is preparing to finally move in with her long-term boyfriend, Kevin (Geoffrey Arend), lead singer of a modestly successful rock band, Wolfbird. As Sarah's sister, Beth (Brie), helps her pack and offers her support, it's clear that Sarah's dragging her feet. Beth is in the midst of planning her wedding to Wolfbird's drummer, Andrew (Martin Starr), eager to move into the next stage of their lives together and start a family.
Marriage and children are the furthest thing from Sarah's mind, however. She's still unsure of what to do with her life, a would-be artist working as a manager at a bookstore. "Aspirations are, like, totally overrated" she observes, drawing a distinction between herself and the rest of her friends, who all seem to have moved on with their lives. They're focused on their careers and romantic relationships, though none appear to be all that happy.
So when Kevin impulsively decides to propose to Sarah following one of his concerts in front of a crowd of his adoring fans, it goes disastrously. Leaving Kevin alone and humiliated, Sarah runs for the hills, choosing to start over on her own instead of descending into married life. She moves into a new apartment and begins dating again, starting up a rebound relationship with Jonathan (Mark Webber), a grad student in marine biology and customer at the bookstore who has had his eye on Sarah for quite some time. All the while Kevin publicly struggles with his newly single status.
This is a film that isn't afraid to make it's heroine unlikeable, but it remains sympathetic to Sarah's situation, refusing to pass judgment and even implying that she may not be entirely wrong in her resistance to growing up. The script, co-written by Egan Rich, graphic novelist Jeffrey Rich (the actual artist behind Sarah's drawings in the film), and director Michael Mohan, doesn't offer simple solutions. This isn't the type of movie to settle for using Beth's bride-to-be character as a simple contrast to her marriage-averse sister. It's clear throughout that both she and Andrew have their own, very real hesitations and worries about their decisions as well.
The relationship between Beth and Sarah is entirely believable. Caplan and Brie care able to capture the alternately antagonistic and supportive bond that siblings often have, and their relationship is the true heart of the film. Performances are strong all around, especially considering that this is a cast known almost exclusively for comedic roles, and the actors prove more than capable of handling the dramatic material. "Save the Date" is a modest movie, not going in for big dramatic pyrotechnics, instead content to offer wise and funny observations about the transition from the uncertainty of youth into the uncertainty of adulthood.