Real-life couple Eleanor Wilson and Alex Huston Fischer explain the ending of their alien-invasion farce, and those pouffes.
Photo: Bleecker Street
If you’re an Old Millennial Coastal Elite(™) who spends too much time online, watching Save Yourselves! will be something of an exercise in gentle self-flagellation. The sci-fi/rom-com/creature-feature, out October 2 and written and directed by real-life couple Eleanor Wilson and Alex Huston Fischer, follows Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Reynolds), a sweet but semi-useless Brooklyn couple who admittedly “have no skills” and spend most of their time separately scrolling through Twitter on the couch (“What is it now, North Korea?”) or collectively discussing how they want to be better people but aren’t exactly sure how (maybe they should start a community garden?). One afternoon, after they’re interrupted pre-coitus by their respective cell phones, a horrified Su knocks Jack’s iPhone out of his hands, and the two decide they and their sourdough starter need to spend a week unplugged upstate at the vacation home of their friend Raf (Ben Sinclair), an ex-investment banker who makes surfboards out of invasive algae.
Unfortunately, a vengeful alien race that’s taken the form of household pouffes has chosen that same week to take over the planet — something the digitally detoxing Su and Jack remain blissfully unaware of until they find themselves running for their lives in the middle of the woods, drugged by pouffe-juice, holding a stranger’s baby. “I don’t have my birth control. If we don’t get rescued in the next three days, I’m gonna get my period,” says Su matter-of-factly. “Is that how that works?” replies an astonished Jack. Their farcical plight hits a little too close to home while we’re in the midst of our own incredibly dumb version of the end of the world, still attempting to hold onto a shred of normalcy.
The end of Save Yourselves! provides something of a litmus test for an audience member’s feelings about just how doomed we are as a generation and a species. After briefly becoming distracted by their now-functioning cell phones, which are populated by Facebook videos of the pouffes taking down the planet, Su and Jack (and Baby Jack) encounter a sort of translucent pod structure, which lifts them into the stratosphere, where they’re able to see a series of other pod people escaping the crumbling Earth. As they hurtle past our planet’s atmosphere, the three stare out of the pod in wonder at what they’re witnessing. “Are we … saved?” Jack asks. The film leaves that question unanswered. As a 30-something New Yorker with very few skills who encountered a mysterious pouffe-shaped item near my home recently, I felt specifically roasted by the film. So I hopped on the phone with Eleanor and Alex to ask them how they came up with the story, how they wanted that ending shot to come across, and whether or not Su and Jack were based on their own relationship dynamic.
Where did the kernel for the idea come from?
Alex Huston Fischer: Eleanor had the kernel.
Eleanor Wilson: The first kernel was really the logline: A couple go upstate to disconnect and aliens attack. It was just a funny premise. And when I mentioned it to Alex, you latched onto the metaphor of it all.
AHF: Yeah, that this couple in Brooklyn is blissfully unaware of the world ending around them. It sounded like an appropriate setup that we could make a lot of jokes out of.
How much of this was drawn from your own experience? Because, for example, during the scene where the two of them get in an argument because Jack deletes Su’s internet tabs, my boyfriend and I were absolutely horrified at the familiarity.
EW: [Laughs.] Yeah, it’s very much us as well. We lived in Brooklyn for 10 years before we moved to Los Angeles, but —
AHF: We wrote the movie, then moved here.
EW: We wanted it to feel very much, like, that sort of neuroses that you get living in a city like that for so long. Not even a city like that. We wanted it to feel truly like Brooklyn. So I’m glad you felt that.
AHF: Does your boyfriend use Bitcoin?
No, but I can see that in his future.
AHF: A lot of these affectations are composites of friends of ours. Like the sourdough starter, we had a friend super into that, and we were like, “That’s gross, but perfect for Jack.”
EW: And there are things drawn directly from our real life for the movie. Like, Alex has night terrors.
AHF: I have night terrors. One time when I was in the shower, Eleanor was singing that song about the soap. [Su sings, “You put the big soap in the little soap,” while transferring her liquids into travel-size containers.]
EW: That’s an original song by me.
AHF: I was like, “What’s going on here?” I thought it was so funny.
EW: He did close my tabs once. And that was infuriating.
AHF: I didn’t actually close the tabs.
EW: You destroyed them. You obliterated them.
AHF: I just didn’t restore them. I didn’t “restore all tabs” when I opened her computer. That was a longer fight in real life than it was in the movie. In the movie, it’s economical, it’s cute. In real life, it was sad. And upsetting.
The scene at the Brooklyn bar, where Ben Sinclair is talking about his ex-investment banking life and his surfboards, and John Early shows up to talk about his wedding and flying a big brass band from New Orleans to Mexico — we all know these sorts of people and it’s so pitch-perfect.
EW: You meet those people and you’re like, “Wow, you’re doing something incredible. I want to do that!” And then you look a little deeper at the character, and he comes from money and he has the means to be able to do things like that.
AHF: One of Eleanor’s dear friends from Australia is named Raf, and he’s so impressive, and he talks about, like, “Oh, I got this door, so I built a sauna around it.” He works in sustainable architecture. He’s an incredible person and we love talking to him. We’re so used to these conversations where you talk to somebody who’s doing leagues beyond what you’re doing in your life and it makes you feel very small. You’re a little inspired and you’re like, “I guess I gotta do something, right? I’m just at a computer all day, doing nothing.”
EW: And that’s the genesis for [Su and Jack]. “Raf has a flip phone, and maybe if we get off our phones, it’ll just solve all of our problems.”
You nail the tone so specifically. Because I watched it and I didn’t feel like, “They think all Brooklynite millennials are bad.” It was more of a roast.
AHF: Yes, thank you! It was a roast.
EW: It was a roast of ourselves.
AHF: And of our friends. And people we love.
EW: This isn’t a mean-spirited look at these people. We don’t think they’re dumb hipster millennials. We truly love them and we wanted to make sure it remained a bit sincere.
AHF: It’d be really easy to just make fun of Brooklynites and treat them like the two a-holes from the SNL skit back in the day. But we thought it would be funnier to make them a little more real.
How did you make Su and Jack different from you?
AHF: The way they are in the movie isn’t really us. Just a couple things. We started writing it for John and Sunita, and toward them and their sense of humor, how they talk, the natural way they react to things. That’s where it started to get good, and less solipsistic.
Sunita told me that she didn’t know you were writing it for her until much later.
AHF: We didn’t tell her until Sundance, until after the film was shot. Even though her character is named Su.
EW: We wanted to have the script good before we shared it with her. It had been for a few drafts before we asked Sunita if she wanted to be in the movie.
Why did you write it for her specifically? What was it about her?
AHF: I met Sunita freshman year of college. We were in speech class together, and she was in comedy troupes in college. And I was a fan. Sunita has an incredible natural presence. She just looks incredible in a closeup; she’s so captivating. And she’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Her comedy is big and goofy, and in real life, she’s a little more type A, like the character.
So we’d seen her in things and thought she could not only lead a movie, but …
EW: … truly shine. It was so exciting for us because we’ve seen her do so many different things, but she hadn’t been a lead in a feature before. It was exciting for us to be able to show the world what she can do. She’s so charming and so natural. It was a no-brainer; we never thought of anyone else for it.
Photo: Bleecker Street Media
Tell me about the genesis of the pouffes.
EW: The main idea was we wanted something that could look like it lived in the cabin before they realized what it was.
AHF: It was a script reason: “What is a piece of furniture that Raf would have?”
EW: That was the first idea and it just stuck. And it snowballed from there. And pouffe is a funny word.
AHF: We liked that the movie had kind of a classic feel. It feels a little like a critter — like Gremlins, before they turn into slimy gremlins.
EW: Once we realized that was the sort of overall aesthetic … we knew we wanted the first half to feel like a classic rom-com, then it meets a classic creature film.
We don’t find out exactly what the pouffes are up to, but did you know what their ultimate goal was?
EW: Oh, yeah. We do. We deliberately didn’t want that in the movie. The whole point for us was doing a movie where you never find out what’s going on. We wanted it to feel very grounded and like what might happen if this actually happened to us. Three days, we wouldn’t figure out what the aliens want and what they’re here for, and how to defeat them.
AHF: Especially Jack and Su. It’s their movie, and in this event, other people have their own movies; the woman who steals their truck has her own movie. In this timeline, other people might know some things about the pouffes, but they don’t.
EW: But we, Alex and Eleanor, have a lot of fun backstory about the pouffes. Especially the cabin pouffe. It’s a bit more of a pacifist, a quiet observer who wants to observe them in their natural habitat. The woods pouffe is ruthless.
AHF: A ruthless killer pouffe.
EW: The gist is that the pouffes were a mistake sent by another alien species accidentally.
AHF: I don’t know how much we actually want to divulge. But the point is, there’s a deep mythology.
EW: It’s just not in this movie.
Did you always have that exact ending in mind for the characters? Did it evolve at all?
AHF: We always wanted it to end the way it did. The only thing that changed was getting them into the pod, into that situation. It always felt like what they deserved, what was coming to them, from the beginning. We loved the symmetry of it: the first scene in the movie is these two people, a stark image of them on their phones, trapped in a bubble, floating through space, in their own world. So it felt so right that the end of the move would be the same, but a literal bubble. They don’t know where they’re doing or what to do; they’re lost in oblivion. So we rounded it out.
EW: Our inspiration for the very final moment was The Graduate. The back of the bus — they’re so excited, and then the excitement just fades, and they’re left with this feeling of, “What now? What have we done?” So it was just about figuring out how to get them there. It was really one morning, we were many drafts into the script at this point, Alex just woke up and said, “Their phones should come back on.” And I was like, “Oh my god, that’s genius.” They’ve spent all this time separated from their phones and fend for themselves —
AHF: And they’re finally doing well, and coming together as a coupe, and they defeat the pouffe, and it’s like, “There’s some hope for these people!”
EW: And they’ve gotten into this attitude of, “Our wants and needs don’t matter anymore.”
AHF: “We need to think about the greater good.” And they’re inspecting this pod like, “We need to learn about this.” And as their phone comes back on, it comes around them and they get sucked into the bubble. It felt so correct. It’s like, “Oh god, they blew it. They were so close.”
EW: Or maybe they’re fine! [Laughs.] We realized in talking to the audiences at Sundance that half of the people think, “Oh, I’m so glad you made it a happy ending.” We were like, “Interesting…” And then half of the people were like, “Oh, it’s funny that they’re going off to die, but you don’t show it.”
AHF: We thought of it like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. We don’t want to see what happens to them, but you get the idea.
EW: It’s nice that each audience member can decide how they feel about what’s gonna happen to Jack and Su.
But you wrote it with a dark ending in mind for them? They get captured and are going to die?
EW: I don’t know about die. Maybe it’s an alien-zoo type situation.
AHF: A zoo in the way that Facebook is a human zoo. You know what I mean? They’re being watched and studied and sold.
Yeah, I saw it not as happy, necessarily, but maybe a bit hopeful.
EW: It can be.
AHF: I do go back and forth. We gave some clues. The oxygen coming on [in the bubble], the fact that there are other people [escaping]. It’s kind of the best option they’ve got.
EW: So some of the human race has been saved.
But perhaps saved for a zoo.
AHF: Yeah. But that optimism is what keeps them hopeful: “Are we saved?” They’re so naïve. It’s that optimism that comes from living a first-world life and having everything be kind of fine.
Why did you decide to insert the baby in there?
EW: I don’t remember how it started. But I do remember that once we had the idea of the baby, we were like, “This is perfect.” It’s this journey of Jack and Su growing up. We don’t have kids but we have friends who’ve had babies in recent years, and they tell us that’s how it feels. That the baby just arrives and all of a sudden there’s a baby there and they have to deal with it.
AHF: “We have to keep this thing alive?” That was the idea. And the movie is sort of a spinoff of “the world is ending really fast,” instead of slowly, like how it is [now]. They get all drugged up and get married in the woods and they have this baby all of a sudden. We loved the image of the two new parents and the baby drifting into the unknown, oblivion, with this child. From what my brother and sister say, it’s like, “We got this kid and we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”
How did you cast that baby? It’s a perfect baby.
EW: I know, they’re so cute. It’s three babies, actually.
AHF: You can follow them on Instagram.
AHF: They’re unbelievable. They totally stole the show. They each have definitive characteristics. One always points. One is a smiler. And one is a frowner.
EW: We sort of got to know them, and the pointing —
AHF: When they get into the bubble at the end, that was the pointer.
At the end, Jack and Su are having that conversation inside the bubble where they’re like, “I don’t know who I am anymore.” What does that mean for you within the larger metaphor of the movie?
AHF: That’s what the movie’s about, yeah.
EW: There was more on-the-nose dialogue in that scene that we cut. But that, for us, was precisely how we feel now. We wrote the movie three years ago, and things have changed, obviously, a lot. In particular in the last six months.
AHF: People care more about stuff than they did.
EW: It does seem like people are more aware and active. For us back then it was like, “We know all of these problems are going on, but at the same time, I have to work, and do these other things in your life that seem important in the moment, and it feels impossible to see the bigger picture.”
AHF: The movie is about them stripping away any sort of ego or identity, and then being like, “Nothing that we thought matters, matters.”
Obviously you couldn’t have anticipated our current situation. But this reality they’re in almost seems preferable. An alien invasion versus what’s happening right now.
AHF: It’s faster and more straightforward. You know what you’re dealing with and you don’t have to worry about, like, spin.