Masculinity has been in crisis for some time now. There have been countless debates and arguments about the current state of masculinity — if it’s dead or not, if that’s a good thing or not. Enter into this argument a very good 2020 sci-fi movie, arguing that everyone should just relax. After all, the world is ending!
Save Yourselves! is a sci-fi horror-comedy where the joke is that the protagonists are still alive. Su and Jack are as capital M Millennial as one can get. They have a nice apartment in Brooklyn paid for with meaningless jobs, Su as a personal assistant and Jack in something vaguely involving tech. Their friends pretend to worry about cultural appropriation and throw great parties. They both have their issues, like Su’s slightly controlling nature and Jack’s not-great listening skills, but they love each other.
After a friend regales them with tales of quitting his finance job for a life of crowdfunded surfboards, the two decide they need to get back to the land. They need to better themselves as people. They leap at the chance to turn off their phones for a week and live in their friend’s cabin upstate.
But it’s a choice that comes with a cost: when Su dares to ask her boss for a vacation, she’s fired over text. Freed from her soul-crushing job, Su is determined to see the weekend through. So the semi-happy hipsters press on, sending out cutesy voicemails, blissfully unaware of the mysterious objects falling from the sky.
What makes Save Yourselves! really work is the wonderful chemistry between John Reynolds and Sunita Mani, both of whom have proved their chops on some of the best television of the last decade — Search Party and GLOW, respectively. Together, they play a couple that has hit a rut and wants to make it work but isn’t quite sure how to talk to each other anymore. Su wants to follow a list from the internet to figure out the problems, Jack demands to continually live in the moment.
Anyone who has seen Search Party (and cast member John Early makes a cameo here) knows that Reynolds excels as a passive-aggressive boyfriend. One who whines, points out endless flaws, continually flails in a soft way that his girlfriends find impossible to leave. He’s similar but kinder in Save, which also takes regular note of how he fails at forming a masculine identity; after a fight with Su, the camera focuses on his pathetic attempt to chop wood outside the cabin like an anti-Steve Rogers. He’s upset because Su has been demanding honesty from him.
And then he storms in and gives her the honesty she wants. In the middle of watching this couple flail at trying to find themselves, Jack declares that he has no idea how to be a man. He couldn’t find and didn’t want the old masculinity of his father, saying, “but I’m not good at the new stuff either!” Baking, cleaning, and listening—he’s not a macho guy, he’s not a sensitive Millennial, so what is he? Utterly lost, both Su and Jack start to accept that they cannot be defined by what they’ve wanted for so long, be it a successful career or a successful performance of gender.
But with that acceptance comes the Pouffes. They’re little balls of fur, they can fly, they can cause hallucinations, and they have absolutely murderous tongues. Throwing away their no-phone rule once things get weird, they start to find out the tiniest clues about the alien invasion: New York City is gone, and society seems to be crumbling at the feet of the Pouffes. They have no clear motives or desires save for their seeming hunger for ethanol.
With little information to go on, the two fail again and again, finding themselves in increasingly dire straits. They’re passionately anti-gun and hate killing. They recoil at the idea of becoming action heroes, far preferring to stay in their cycle of ruts and breakthroughs, but heroes are exactly what they have to be. Especially Su, whose glee at chopping a Pouffe is one of the best scenes in the movie. From her early film credit in Lil John’s “Turn Down For What” music video to her excellent if underused character in GLOW, Mani is terrific at physical comedy.
It should come as no surprise that Save was made by a couple. Co-writer/directors Eleanor Wilson and Alex Huston Fischer have said that the script started with “specific idiosyncrasies from our real life” and that it was “much more fun to watch” parodies of themselves on screen than in real life.
Save Yourselves! pokes fun at the helplessness of its main characters, but it also points that other people aren’t much better. The survivors are crueler than them, the guns are as useless as they predicted. The best they might manage, the film suggests, is if they decide to stay focused on their own little bubble. A TV series is apparently in the works, so who knows where Jack and Su will go next.
Save Yourselves! is streaming now on Hulu.