Apocalypse With Absurdity: 'Save Yourselves!' Offers A Perfect Mix For Year 2020 | WAMC

Apocalypse With Absurdity: 'Save Yourselves!' Offers A Perfect Mix For Year 2020

Oct 13, 2020
Originally published on October 13, 2020 7:44 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The movie "Save Yourselves!" balances apocalypse with absurdity. And in that sense, it might be perfectly timed for 2020. It's about a couple in Brooklyn who decide to turn off their phones and laptops for a week at a cabin in upstate New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SAVE YOURSELVES!")

JOHN REYNOLDS: (As Jack) We're not checking our email either, guys. And we are not kidding. So...

SUNITA MANI: (As Su) Bye, world.

REYNOLDS: (As Jack) Bye.

SHAPIRO: So when an alien invasion triggers the end of the world, they're the last to know.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SAVE YOURSELVES!")

REYNOLDS: (As Jack) Aliens?

SHAPIRO: This is the first leading film role for Sunita Mani, who has been on TV in "Mr. Robot", "Glow" and other shows.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MANI: Thank you for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: One of the things I love about the movie is that the scary aliens who kill everybody are not scary-looking at all. Will you describe them?

MANI: Yes. These alien creatures are like delicious furniture pieces. They are called pouffes. We reference them as pouffes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SAVE YOURSELVES!")

MANI: (As Su) Did you move the pouffe?

REYNOLDS: (As Jack) No. Do you want me to move it back by the...

MANI: (As Su) No, no, no, no. Don't touch it.

REYNOLDS: (As Jack) OK.

MANI: They are something out of, like, a furniture magazine catalog.

SHAPIRO: They're more CB2 than CGI.

MANI: (Laughter) Yes, exactly. They are, like, a decor that is, like, a ball and has, like, soft, delicate furs kind of sewn all around it. So it's just sort of like a amorphous little blob that looks enticing and maybe harmless, but it's actually very dangerous.

SHAPIRO: And I wonder what they were like as scene partners.

MANI: Divas. They were full-on divas. They were very, like, pampered on set.

SHAPIRO: Well, you're an accomplished dancer.

MANI: Oh, wow.

SHAPIRO: So does that training come in handy when you are playing somebody who is escaping killer alien pouffes?

MANI: I wonder (laughter). I do have a comfortability and a confidence in just, like, existing in my body in certain ways where I am - I love the action scenes. And I think, if anything, it's, like, a bit of vaudeville or, like, silent movie fantasy that I get to play in...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

MANI: ...More than, like, pointing my toes or holding my body a certain way. It's just, like, the - more just the comfortability in my body.

SHAPIRO: That also seems to describe some of the dancing that you've lately been known for, which is...

MANI: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: I mean, even if you were classically trained, you've been known for, like, dance as comedy, whether that's in music videos or, like, original productions of your own.

MANI: Yeah. My dance training is, like, very small-town. Like, I don't have really formal training, honestly. I just - I came up in the, like, dance team culture world in high school and middle school of, like, jazz, tap, ballet. I also performed a South Indian style of dancing called Bharatanatyam. And it's very, like, storytelling-heavy, very, like, pantomime-heavy, almost.

SHAPIRO: And also clogging, right?

MANI: And clogging, yeah (laughter).

SHAPIRO: The movie is obviously absurd, but there are a few moments that feel exceptionally real.

MANI: Oh, yeah.

SHAPIRO: Like, there's a scene where you and your boyfriend, played by John Reynolds, are packing a go bag from the cabin in case you need to escape on short notice.

MANI: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SAVE YOURSELVES!")

REYNOLDS: (As Jack) We have spaghetti squash, microgreens, lamb chops, leftover quinoa. Would it have killed us to have gotten some non-perishables?

MANI: It's ridiculous.

SHAPIRO: Sunita Mani, how close is this to your reality? Like, are you the kind of person who would bring microgreens or a sourdough starter to a cabin in the woods?

MANI: Yes, I am - yes. I - not sourdough for me. I didn't really get into that, and I'm not really into the baking aspect. I'm a terrible baker.

SHAPIRO: Same. Even the pandemic has not triggered a switch for me. But anyway, go on. Yeah.

MANI: I just - I am more and more becoming the character of Su as we go on and on and on in this pandemic.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: It seems crazy that this is, I think, the first time I've ever seen you play a role where ethnicity isn't a part of the storyline. Like, it took until now for someone to write a part for you that is not, on some level, about being a person of color.

MANI: Absolutely. And I'm so glad, like, I didn't have to carry that, like, awareness so much. Like, while we were making it, while I was thinking about it, it was just like, yes, I love this role. I love this story. I want to do it. I can do it. And it - that simple - kind of that simple approach to a role in some ways was, like - I just hadn't had that experience. I love that (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

MANI: Love being able to just sort of approach it more directly instead of kind of calling - I mean, I am a multi-fragmented, multicultural person. So I'm happy to, like - it's cool that I can utilize all of that. But this was just, like, a simple relationship story about a Brooklyn hipster couple, which I very much am and a part of. So...

SHAPIRO: It also makes me wonder if Hollywood's emphasis on telling diverse stories is having the reverse of the intended effect by pigeonholing people as being able to tell stories that reflect a particular background and shutting them out of the more universal stories that they might be equally eager to tell.

MANI: Yes. It's such a tricky balance of unintentional tokenism of, like, well, now you get your story to tell the - like, tell us about your family background. And it's - there's room for that. And maybe there are some actors or writers or filmmakers more inspired by that. But I'm not, like, as interested in, like, contextualizing my backstory or background or something for a broader public. I want to just - I want to throw you into it. I want people to just be exposed to it as, like, a normal day to day.

So it's tricky. I think we're, like - we're emerging, our industry. And I think voices are coming out of it that are sort of saying, like, oh, we're all just humans with dimensional experiences, and we want to just be treated as part of, like, the canon (laughter) and the - yeah, the narrative.

SHAPIRO: So given that we as a country and a planet are currently in this moment that feels both absurd and apocalyptic...

MANI: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Do you think there's anything about the approach that this movie takes to the end of the world that - I don't know - maybe can offer us any lessons for the real world?

MANI: I hope so. I think that we can treat the unknown as, like, a hopeful place. I know we are - things are really crumbling before us, and we are in the middle of a transformation. But I think we have to hold on to each other, metaphorically, trust each other and, like, imagine that it could just be better and keep on holding on to that hope.

SHAPIRO: Sunita Mani, thank you so much for talking with us.

MANI: Oh, thank you, Ari. It was a pleasure.

SHAPIRO: She stars in the new movie "Save Yourselves!", out now in theaters and on demand.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEORGE FITZGERALD'S "PASSING TRAINS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.