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Save the Date

Calculated quirkiness and cartoonish characterizations make Michael Mohan's picture shallow enough to be a sitcom pilot.

With: Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Geoffrey Arend, Mark Webber, Melonie Diaz, Timothy Busfield.

Calculated quirkiness and cartoonish characterizations make “Save the Date” shallow enough to be a sitcom pilot. Clearly trying to position itself for commercial success with an attractive cast and facile direction by Michael Mohan (“One Too Many Mornings”), the film features a lead perf by Lizzy Caplan, who might be mistaken here for a graduate of the Zooey Deschanel School of Dramatic Arts. She’s easy enough to watch and could get a career boost from the pic, even if it doesn’t contain a single emotionally honest moment.

Sarah (Caplan), a bookstore manager and aspiring artist (her drawings mix Hallmark with R. Crumb), has just moved in with Kevin (Geoffrey Arend), the frontman in a band that includes Andrew (Martin Starr), fiance of Sarah’s sister, Beth (Alison Brie). None of these tightly connected characters seem to know each other: Andrew and Beth talk as if they’re trying to pick each other up at a bar, and Sarah apparently has no idea who Kevin is, i.e., the kind of guy who would propose marriage in the middle of a gig in front of 200 strangers, and be surprised when a mortified Sarah runs out of the club and the relationship. As breakup scenes go, it’s excruciating, but not in a way that endears any of the characters to the audience.

Beth, while not exactly Bridezilla, is obsessed with her upcoming nuptials (Andrew less so). Thus, Sarah is subjected to the misery-loves-company sentiments of her nearest and dearest, even as she’s getting swept off her feet in slo-mo by bookstore customer and Sarah worshipper Jonathan (Mark Webber), who talks as if he’s auditioning for “How I Met Your Mother.” Kevin hasn’t a chance with Sarah anymore — he doesn’t know it, but keeps hoping — yet even though Jonathan seems like the perfect guy for Sarah, she’s resistant: Something in her is perversely opposed to happiness. Either that, or Mohan needs to keep the movie going for another 68 minutes.

Scripted with a surfeit of glib humor by Mohan, Jeffrey Brown and Egan Reich, “Save the Date” is essentially a series of two-shots and setpieces that seem constructed to allow for commercial interruption. There’s little narrative tissue tying everything together, save for Sarah’s romantic indecision, which is the kind of flimsy premise upon which a catalogue of post-adolescent romantic comedies have been hung. Again, the characters seem to be strangers to one another; there are none of the gaps in conversation that imply familiarity, and for which skilled writers would compensate through craft.

At the same time, it all goes down easily enough: Starr is very good, Andrew being the only character who exhibits anything like awareness of what’s happening beyond his own navel. And Caplan has a bright future, one that will likely include more substantial efforts than this.

Tech credits are above average, even if the music cues, as one might expect, are more than a little obvious.

Save the Date

Production: A Huffington Prods. presentation in association with XYZ Films, Curious Films and Instinctive Films of a Gilbert Films, Night & Day Pictures and Huffington production. Produced by Jordan Horowitz, Michael Huffington, Michael Roiff. Executive producer, Gary Gilbert. Directed by Michael Mohan. Screenplay, Jeffrey Brown, Egan Reich, Mohan.

Crew: Camera (color), Elisha Christian; editor, Christian Masini; music, Hrishikesh Hirway; music supervisor, Laura Webb; production designers, Cindy Chao, Michele Yu; costume designer, Mirren Gordon-Crozier; line producers, M. Elizabeth Hughes, Nathan Kelly; assistant director, Rachel Jensen; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee, Rich Delia. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 23, 2012. Running time: 98 MIN.

Cast: With: Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Geoffrey Arend, Mark Webber, Melonie Diaz, Timothy Busfield.

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