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‘Save Yourselves!’: Film Review

It's the end of the world in Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson's charming survivalist rom-com. At least their hapless couple has wine.

Save Yourselves!
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Brooklyn couple Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Reynolds) have several plans to salvage their lives. Go vegetarian, plant a garden, make sourdough bread, and above all, quit the internet addiction that’s become their relationship’s third wheel, distracting them from make-outs and barging into their fights until Su yells, “Alexa stop!” To detox, the couple embarks on a phone-free week in upstate New York. “It’s not the end of the world if we forget something,” says Jack. It’s the end of the world because aliens invade right when they turn off their ringers, making the plugged-in pair the last people to learn that those lights in the sky aren’t shooting stars. They haven’t seen enough meteors to know the difference.

There’s only one joke in Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson’s “Save Yourselves!” — this hapless generation is doomed! — but the survival comedy is delightful from start to apocalypse. The monsters, overseen by visual effects supervisor Jeff Desom, are a marvel of low-budget ingenuity that nods to “Star Trek’s” infamous Tribbles. But these small, furry puffs are bloodsucking killers, who, with a thwhizz, flick their sticky 15-foot tongues through bottles, cars and human flesh. Attach the tip of their suckers to walls, and they can swing like Spider-Man. Once the audience has seen one Puff — the couple never comes up with a more scientific name — tongue-stab a victim through the heart, Fischer and Wilson could shoot a footrest and spike heart-rates. (Or, in one fun fake-out, a basketball.)

The movie’s best special effect is Mani and Reynolds’ chemistry. It’s a breakout role for two young actors with strong comedy roots. Mani is a regular on “Glow” and the outrageous female dancer in The Daniels’-directed music video “Turn Down for What”; Reynolds comes from Chicago improv and has appeared on “Stranger Things.” They’re convincing as a couple who’s smitten, but stuck in a rut. (Fischer and Wilson, a couple themselves, have an eye for the small, credible details that let them appear to read the other’s mind.)

Su is the pragmatist, the one who couldn’t resist handwriting a relationship checklist from the internet. She swears that loophole isn’t cheating. Reynolds is a daffier bird, a male archetype rarely seen on film since the screwball comedies of the 1930s, Cary Grant reborn as a softboy millennial. He’s a Princeling of Magical Thinking, an opinionated pushover who when failing to light a fire, shrugs that the issue is “some bad wood.”

Su and Jack are pathetic, but they’re not dumb. They’re just from a society that’s more interested in healing crystals than camping manuals. “Save Yourselves!” lets them radiate goodness, and extends its benevolence to their friends, even as the film notes that their grand plans to save the planet are really just trifles. A 3D-printed algae surfboard? Couldn’t hurt — but won’t help.

Everyone in “Save Yourselves!” is striving for self-improvement. The filmmakers are right to identify a generational hunger for authenticity — the buzzword that obsesses Su and Jack. And it’s generous of the film to respect their quest, even as it’s lampooned for laughs. Despite a handful of brutal kills, the movie’s big heart means that the couple can’t actually die onscreen. The audience loves them too much, and so the final act, though mostly terrific, is forced to bunt. At least “Save Yourselves!” never retreats from its premise: Su and Jack are no heroes. But who is?

‘Save Yourselves!’: Film Review

<p class="western">ORIGIN: Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 25, 2019. Running time: 93 MIN.</p>

  • Production: <p class="western">A Keshet Studios production, in association with Seymour Kash Prods., Washington Square Films, Last Rodeo Studios. (Int'l sales: Endeavor Content, Los Angeles & Film Constellation, London.) Producers: Kara Durrett, Mandy Tagger, Adi Ezroni. Co-producers: Tatiana Bears, Peter Kash. Executive producers: Josh Blum, Rebecca Feinberg, Avi Nir, Alon Shtruzman, Peter Traugott, Philip Erdoes, Jared Kash, Andy Youmans.</p>
  • Crew: <p class="western">Directors, writers: Alex Huston Fischer, Eleanor Wilson. Camera: Matt Clegg. Editor: Sofi Marshall. Music: Andrew Orkin, Kyle McKeveny.</p>
  • With: <p class="western">Sunita Mani, John Reynolds, Ben Sinclair, Johanna Day</p> , John Early, Gary Richardson.
  • Music By: