The end is nigh! And even if it’s not, it often feels that way. We, um, we stockpiled Charmin six months ago.
With all this fragrant doom in bloom, it’s worth visiting the art that imitates this life in which we find ourselves. In the same way that 2019 cinema was all about revenge from the poorer side of the wealth gap — "Parasite," "Hustlers," et al. — the next year or two in popular film might rep for the apocalypse. "Save Yourselves!" counts as a charming early example.
Originally set to screen at South by Southwest (but, pandemic!), the sci-fi comedy written and directed by Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson will now open in select theaters Friday (but, pandemic …) before hitting on demand platforms Oct. 6.
Those saving themselves are Jack (John Reynolds of "Search Party" nerd-hunk fame) and Su (Sunita Mani, incandescent on Netflix’s "G.L.O.W."), a hip young couple whom you might classify as hipsters. I’ll refrain from identifying them as such, because sometimes you look yourself in the mirror and something unpleasant stares back. But to paint the picture: Jack is fixated on his sourdough starter, they treat their Alexa like a third roommate and their fights revolve around things like carelessly closed browser tabs. A hot and heavy make-up makeout devolves into the two scrolling mindlessly on their phones instead. They’re not entirely unaware of these traits, and questions of what’s actually important in life loom large over Jack and Su.
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After an encounter with a sage yuppie friend, Raph (Ben Sinclair of "High Maintenance"), Jack and Su abscond to a cabin in the woods — my darlings, one should never — to reconnect. No phones, no laptops.
Good timing on their part, or good under the circumstances — the circumstances being that killer aliens have invaded Earth, and they look like Tribbles from "Star Trek" that got Gold’s Gym memberships. Blissfully unaware to the world outside, Jack and Su must fend for themselves on a steep learning curve once the invasion reaches their Walden-esque retreat.
It’s a dirty rotten shame that "Save Yourselves!" has been sacrificed at the altar of pandemic film schedules. No one’s been presented with perfect (or even good) choices lately, but it does feel like any movie put into theatrical distribution or consigned to the on-demand wilderness these days is like a hapless dog stuffed into a Soviet rocket, given over to the gods of scientific exploration and nationalist bravado. Sacrificing this particular movie, with its sharp script and winning young stars who could use a boost, is a lamentable loss.
Reynolds, pulling faces that should get more star billing, and Mani have winning chemistry. For all their foibles, their characters are easy to root for, which you want in a doomsday comedy. (And though the CGI fuzzball aliens, which the couple dub "pouffes," do their job, Reynolds’ mustache is by far the best use of hair here.) All-too-brief cameos from Sinclair, John Early, Jo Firestone, a baby with great comedic timing and the vocal stylings of Amy Sedaris elevate the indie air.
Fischer and Wilson tackle the challenge of "millennial Armageddon film" with whip-smart care. Passing dialogue about how much longer dinosaurs were on the earth than humans have been, for example, subtly lifts up the film’s message, that of finding freedom through the recognition of our own insignificance in the grand scheme of things. The script walks a tricky tone line, too, and earns some honest emotional beats between the laugh lines — shock, sorrow, what have you.
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Jack and Su aren’t 2D caricatures of the ’90s-baby generation, which a lazier film would spend its time assailing with hack avocado toast groaners. They’re hapless and tech-chained, yeah, but they’re also thoughtful and resourceful. Jack struggles with a lack of purpose and a crisis of modern masculinity. Su grapples with the "Is that all there is?" of career and relationship stagnancy.
"Save Yourselves!" has the familiar feel of a video store find, may they rest in peace — and for all its timely twists, you wouldn’t call it revolutionary. Fischer and Wilson probably were going for artful ambiguity in the film’s hard-sci-fi final act, but for a movie-watcher, it’s more likely to elicit an "Ooookay" than a "Whoa, makes you think." (But what do I know? I’m but a speck in the universe, a phone-tied millennial amid a crisis of modern masculinity.)
This one is worth letting go of a little control, though. Our real world, of course, is experiencing its own catastrophes of entirely terrestrial design. Does that numbed phone-scrolling put anything new into your heart? Will ticking off all the "shoulds" in your professional and personal rigmarole echo through eternity? Take it from Su, in an enlightened moment as chaos burns: "I don’t think it matters who we are anymore."