Sunday, May 4, 2014

FIlm Review: In Your Eyes

Joss Whedon (who is one of my own personal gods in case you didn't know) had a Q&A panel at 2013's Comic Con in which he mentioned a desire for more original content to come out of Hollywood. You can watch the entire panel here if you like, and if you don't have anything to do for the next hour. It's funny and insightful as Whedon has a tendency to be, but the focus on more original stories struck me as interesting. This is partially because I've been lamenting the various remakes and rehashes and adaptations coming out of Hollywood for the past couple of years, and it's just nice to hear someone I respect and admire so greatly admit to feeling the same way.

As we all know, Whedon's star is (finally) on the ascendent. He's gained a lot of success over the past couple years while helming the ship for Marvel's The Avengers adaptation and writing, directing, and producing his own adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Anyone else sensing a pattern developing here? For a man with specific views on the need for original content, Whedon didn't seem to be putting out much original content. Indeed, even The Cabin in the Woods (brilliant film that it was) seemed to be the brain child of Drew Goddard. So where were all of these original ideas Whedon wanted to see come out of Hollywood but didn't seem ready to produce himself? Apparently sitting in one of his desk drawers for the last decade.

In Your Eyes is the most recent film to be released by Whedon. Given how busy the man is with Age of Ultron, and all of his other Marvel duties, I don't know how much he had to do with the film's actual production, but we do know that he is the sole person responsible for the script.

And what a script it is. In Your Eyes (which can be rented for only $5 here) is the story of Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) and Rebecca (Zoe Kazan), two people who couldn't be more different from one another but who find themselves inexplicably linked and drawn together. The film opens with Dylan and Rebecca as children, him in New Mexico and she living in New Hampshire, on what appears to be just a normal day for both of him. He's going to school and joking with his friends, and she's going sledding with her mother. As Rebecca's getting ready for the pulse pounding trek down the snowy hill, Dylan finds himself seeing things through her eyes, and when she crashes into a tree, the both of them feel it and are knocked unconscious. The film then jumps forward a decade or so to give us Dylan and Rebecca as adults. He's an ex-con fresh out of prison for breaking and entering and trying to get his life together, and she's married to the worst man imaginable living an unfulfilled, upper-class life. Their weird connection has continued in less invasive ways than the sledding incident, but it's kicked into full gear one day for no discernible reason. They find that they can talk to each other (out loud only) and see what one another sees, and also smell and feel what the other is smelling and feeling. What follows is a fascinating and entertaining story about how two people who've never even met find themselves falling in love.

The story works exceptionally well for a sap, like me, who loves romance and watching people fall in love. And for two people who are on screen together for less than five minutes, Michael Stahl-David and Zoe Kazan have exceptionally strong chemistry with one another. It was easy to forget during their scenes that they couldn't actually hear one another and were filming their respective parts in different locations. But deeper than the romance were themes about companionship and never being alone that I found to be really moving. But the romantic story in and of itself is great because these two people make one another better by being together. It's something I've noticed about the best of Whedon's romantic relationships: His characters don't have to change or give up anything about themselves when they get together. When that particular element is missing, the relationships tend to fall flat or not work.

The flaws in the film are nominal. None of the characters outside of the main two are developed as well. Most of them are two dimensional villain types who serve little to no purpose other than to be horrible and create tension for the couple. There are a number of scenes of the two of them talking to each other over their mysterious connection in public and getting odd glances from the people around them who think their talking to themselves. This could have easily been taken care of by each of them simply buying a Bluetooth and wearing it everywhere. Since the story takes place in a world where people seemingly walk around talking to themselves all the time, this is an odd problem for the story to have and never address. And the origin of this connection between them and whatever it is that sparked it into being is never explained in the film. There's a moment when Dylan says he's been thinking about the reasons why it might have happened when it did, and when Rebecca asks him what he thinks, he simply replies "Why not?" It's an exchange that suggests Whedon knew the question would come up eventually and either didn't want to bog down the proceedings with an explanation, or couldn't come up with one himself. As a choice, it feels a little lazy on his part, but I also recognize the potential desire to allow that element of the story to sit on the back burner while we just focus on these two characters falling in love. In that sense, whether this development is a stroke of genius or a deal breaker for the picture is something that I think is totally subjective.

Other than that, I honestly thought every aspect of the story worked. As much as I'm looking forward to Age of Ultron, and I can't stress enough how excited I am, I must say that if Joss Whedon continues to lead the charge for original content in Hollywood, then there's nothing more we could hope for. In Your Eyes blends romance and Sci-Fi in one of the best ways I've ever seen. Spend your $5 and watch it now; you won't be disappointed.

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