movie review

Save Yourselves! Is a Small, Charming Comedy About the Apocalypse

Sunita Mani and John Reynolds in Save Yourselves!
Sunita Mani and John Reynolds in Save Yourselves! Photo: Bleecker Street

At the movies, the apocalypse is almost always a great opportunity for self-actualization. It doesn’t matter if it happens during a comedy or a drama or an action flick — the arrival of global calamity often represents a chance for characters to come into their own and become who they’ve always wanted to be. (Edgar Wright’s The World’s End remains the ultimate comic riff on this idea.) In the modest but winning Save Yourselves!, a nebbishy Brooklyn couple intent on becoming “better people” briefly disconnect and take a break in the country — just in time for Earth to be invaded by aliens. And sure enough, our heroes’ challenges are as much about confronting their consciences as they are about survival.

Having (mostly) unplugged by the time disaster strikes, Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Reynolds) don’t initially know that cities have been overrun, Yankee Stadium has been leveled, and many of their friends are dead (or, in one case, “dwad,” as a misspelled text eventually informs them, much to their momentary confusion). Instead, they’re in their own world, trying to reconcile the people they want to be with the people they currently are. That existential crisis, after all, was what prompted this rural retreat in the first place. Early in the film, Jack laments that his hands don’t have the calloused roughness of those of their wise, confident beardo pal Raph (Ben Sinclair), who left investment baking and now works in Nicaragua prototyping ecofriendly 3-D printed surfboards made out of algae. Su, meanwhile, is the kind of person who has a meltdown upon discovering her browser tabs have disappeared. They both need to get away, and when Raph offers them his grandfather’s old cabin in a rural corner of upstate New York, they leap at the opportunity. Arriving at the cabin, they revel in the fact that their Alexa and Siri prompts go unheeded. They hide their devices. Su makes self-improvement checklists. Lounging in a boat in the middle of a nearby lake, they enjoy listening to the sounds of nature. (They close their eyes as they do so, which means they miss seeing the frantic dude onshore getting leveled by an alien.)

Of course, because this is a low-budget comedy, the extraterrestrials are small, seemingly harmless balls of fur that don’t really move much; when the first one shows up in Su and Jack’s cabin, they assume it’s a small, poofy footstool they happened not to see earlier. (And no, we do not get to see Yankee Stadium being destroyed.) Much of the film’s comic power lies in this couple’s gradual realization about what’s happening, and the slow build allows them to actually consider how they will react to such utterly surreal circumstances: When they learn there’s an old gun in the basement, they despair over whether they should use it. A queasy Jack throws out statistic after statistic about how by merely picking up the gun he is more likely to shoot Su. Then they remind themselves that there’s an alien invasion afoot and, with frustrated sighs, declare, “We’re gun people now.”

As with this year’s earlier The Lovebirds, another comedy about a hip, conflicted couple thrown into extreme circumstances, your enjoyment of Save Yourselves! may depend partly on how annoying you find the central characters. (Or maybe on the precise nature of your annoyance: I found them adorably annoying as opposed to, you know, excruciatingly annoying.) Luckily, the film’s relative restraint keeps things grounded — or at least as grounded as any movie in which Earth is invaded by multicolor fur balls can be. Directors Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson seem happy to let the humor develop casually instead of trying for far-fetched, go-for-broke set-pieces, so you never feel like you’re being manhandled into forced comedy bits (which was a problem with The Lovebirds). The film starts off quiet and droll and continues in that vein pretty much right through the end.

But the lack of comic escalation isn’t always a good thing. Bigger, broader high jinks might have taken better advantage of these actors, who seem pretty game. Mani clearly has a gift for physical humor — watch the hilarious way she frightfully scampers around their car, wielding a small shovel as a weapon — and Reynolds nails a very specific gawky, mustachioed Brooklyn type so perfectly that you want to see him play more with the idea. Of course, that would have been a different movie, with a different budget, a different production schedule, and probably a different audience. Save Yourselves! is a small movie about small people doing small things in the face of a (mostly unseen) big event. If it plays things a little too safe at times, that’s probably because it has to. And besides, it’s charming enough that you may not notice, or care.

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Save Yourselves! Is a Charming, Small-Time Apocalypse Comedy