Joss Whedon's In Your Eyes review
Joss Whedon's new movie, In Your Eyes, was released online for $5 this week. Here's our review...
Ousting the Peter Gabriel song from the top of search engine results, Bellwether Pictures second film (after 2012's Much Ado About Nothing) is notable for its release strategy (digital rental) and for being from a new script by Joss Whedon (with Brin Hill directing). Many will doubtless choose to rent it for this reason alone. For those who are on the fence, consider the following:
Say 'Paranormal Romance' and there's still a residual image of a greased-up buff guy standing next to a wolf on a book cover. Say 'Romantic Comedy' and there's still an image of two self-obsessed own-fart-sniffers trampling over other people's lives to get married. Whedon has concocted a paranormal romantic comedy, though the emphasis is on the romance.
Romantic comedies are, by their very nature, low on verisimilitude. There might be some amusing insights or observations about how people interact with each other, but they also feature contrived situations and choices to drive their three acts along as a cheerfully fantastical escapade. Ideally, a rom-com will deliver a heady mix of romance and comedy within this framework. Either you like it, or (to paraphrase Morrissey) the stories that they constantly tell say nothing to you about your life.
Joss Whedon gets away with this artifice better than most, because he's written a love story between two people who live on opposite sides of America. Rebecca (Ruby Sparks writer/actor Zoe Kazan) and Dylan (Cloverfield's Michael Stahl-David) have been able to share experiences on and off for most of their lives, finally making constant contact near the start of the film. He lives in New Mexico, she lives in New Hampshire. She's a housewife, married to a Doctor, and he lives alone in his trailer, on parole and working at a car wash. The production team make the most of the strong visual contrast between locations, without it overshadowing the characters.
By setting up Dylan and Rebecca's meeting (mentally, if not physically) through an obviously fantastical premise, Whedon puts into place a situation whereby the two-way exchange of personal information feels much less forced than a 'she was a gin-loving cattery owner, he was the owner of the largest Juniper plantation in Texas and also more of a dog person' type setup.
The two lead characters explore each other's lives and bodies, their chemistry and charisma side-stepping the potentially invasive aspects of the relationship. The idea of love being a form of insanity, mentally and physically damaging both parties is explored, sometimes in a jarringly knockabout manner. Kazan and Stahl-David, despite not actually being in the same place, sell the interactions with each other and with the outside world. Neither of them look in the least bit ashamed to be talking to the voices in their head, which leads to some problems for them later in the film.
If these two characters don't appeal, the film is lost. That they feel like Whedon characters – quippy, clever, outcasts – stuck in the real world without Scooby Gangs or crew-members as backup makes them feel right for each other, with likeable minor New Mexico charactes marked out as not smart enough to relate to Dylan. His other friends are the ones that got him into prison in the first place. Rebecca, meanwhile, is stuck with a town full of dickheads as stark and cold as the scenery. Overall, they're grounded and attractive, but over the space of one film there's not enough to rank them in the upper echelons of Whedon's creations.
Rebecca's husband, Phillip, is given some potential for not being totally iredeemable, but pretty much acts like a huge dickhead from his first scene. His actual motives aren't totally clear, and there's a chance he might be acting out of concern for Rebecca, but he goes about this in such a consistently arsehole-y manner that you wish he was just a straightforward ballsack without any shades of grey. The upshot of this is that Rebecca and Dylan are a couple you root for when the obstacles come their way.
While the plot does advance, it does so slowly, eking the pair into a position where they have nothing left to lose. That it ends with a potentially tense sequence but doesn't really result in any heightened emotions is a testament to that deserved but potentially underwhelming epithet: In Your Eyes is a fine wee film.
In terms of comedy, this isn't aiming for consistent hilarity. The jokes are good, when they come, but are relatively restrained. Laughter isn't the main aim here. Likewise, the paranormal aspect is unexplained. Whedon's focus here is on romance between two outsiders, the jokes part of making them likeable, the paranormal an allegorical means to an end. However, while it's entertaining, it doesn't have the depth or likeability to lift it into something special.
There's a slight quality to the drama which undermines any aspirations of greatness. The plot moves along logically, and there's some catharsis to be had in the conclusion, but the emotional aspect lacks heft. Despite this, In Your Eyes still feels pleasant and watchable, like seeing quite a fat bee in a flower.
You can find the movie here.
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