Much in the way that Cameron Crowe’s early ’90s Seattle-set “Singles” froze the grunge scene in rom-com amber, “Social Animals” is a time capsule of 20-teens Austin. Writer-director Theresa Bennett throws every hipster cliché at “Social Animals,” but it only serves to make the film feel dated.
The interminably cute Zoe (Noël Wells) lives in a pink two-tone trailer. She cuts her bangs in her front yard, brings a flask to baby showers and collects polaroid snapshots of the men she sleeps with. Her meet-cute with married video-store owner Paul (Josh Radnor) involves her lighting her skirt on fire with a joint, and their dates include taco tastings in a food truck park and outdoor screenings of ’80s comedies.
Against this landscape, Bennett explores a group of friends stuck in the wrong relationships. Zoe’s all about sex without commitment, while her best friend is engaged to a philandering Republican. Paul and his wife, Jane (Aya Cash), are locked in a hellish stalemate of a marriage with three kids and no intimacy.
“Social Animals” is far darker than its colorful, exhibitionist exterior lets on. As the film builds to a climax, it swings wildly in tone, each scene feeling disconnected from the one before. Despite losing some narrative cohesiveness along the way, Bennett manages to steer the film to a happy, if somewhat unearned, ending.
Rated: R, for strong and crude sexual content, language, and drug use
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Playing: Galaxy Mission Grove, Riverside; AMC Orange