23 April 2014

IN YOUR EYES- Review

There are worse ways to come down from the long Easter weekend than to discover that Joss Whedon has gone and released a new film. Moments after its world première at the Tribeca Film Festival, Whedon announced that his sci-fi romance In Your Eyes could be in your eyes right away, for a $5 rental fee on Vimeo.

The film centres around Dylan and Rebecca, two people who are inextricably connected by a shared psychic connection. Young Rebecca has a sledging accident, and Dylan is knocked out cold, thousands of miles away. Flash forward to their adulthood- he's an under-achieving ex-con in New Mexico, and she's a skittish housewife who lives with her condescending husband in New Hampshire. Once the connection between them becomes more obvious, they are able to converse with one another out loud, and see and feel whatever the other is experiencing.

This is a lovely surprise for fans, and intriguing for its marked difference to the last time everyone's favourite ginger titan of geekdom experimented with online distribution. While Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog had Whedon written all over it, this one feels much more out of his comfort zone as a writer. His tropes are more recognisable to us geeks than anybody's, and yet his last two projects, released between Avengers movies, have both had scripts that read somewhat further from his comfort zone.

His Much Ado About Nothing was an exercise in direction, where Shakespeare's text stayed exactly the same and the adaptations came either visually, or in the context of casting. Given how he hasn't directed this one, In Your Eyes feels a lot more like a writing exercise, and that's both a help and a hindrance to the finished film. Some reviews have described the film as the result of some experiment in an alternate universe, in which slushy romance novelist Nicholas Sparks wrote the script for Spike Jonze's Her. As reductive as that may sound, the similarities are there on both counts.

While Whedon writes better characters than Sparks, and thus our leading man is more nuanced than just his troubled past and skills as a handyman, and our leading lady is more complicated than merely being unfulfilled in her relationship. Where his script falls short, however, is in playing things far more earnestly than Her, and its unusual, non-physical intimacy. Jonze not only got away with writing such an unorthodox romance, but turned it into one of the best films of the year, (and bagging himself an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in the process) because that script didn't shy away from the tough questions about its own premise. Maybe we just have certain expectations, with the genre-exploding Cabin In The Woods still so fresh in our memories, but this is a fairly straightforward romance, considering who's behind it.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but it does feel like the film leaves some interesting possibilities on the table. More annoyingly, the script even plays right into all of the Sparks beats in its final movement, as several of the characters become Flanderized versions of the people we were invested in for the previous 90 minutes, and any conflict that physically kept Dylan and Rebecca apart up to that point becomes moot as the running time ebbs away. Having said all of that, I'm not reviewing the film that it isn't.

In all fairness, the film that director Brin Hill has made, even with the tendency towards rather more achingly indie-tracked montages than is entirely sensible, is perfectly watchable, and a big part of that is down to the central performances. Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David each repeat the same feat as Joaquin Phoenix did in the role of Theodore Twombly, in falling in love with a character played by an actor who basically isn't there, and carry it off very well indeed.

As relative unknowns, they each add something to the indie-cred of the film too. Kazan proves there's much more to her than the deliberate cypher she played in her breakout role in Ruby Sparks, and though Stahl-David is perhaps still best known as Rob from Cloverfield, (or “RAAAAAHHHB”, as his friends kept calling him in that film) his charming and sympathetic performance leaves you wondering why he hasn't been seen more since. The lead performances keep it going, through tentative courtship, and even through a legit 80s-sex-scene-style bout of mutual masturbation that might have tipped a more histrionic film into howling cheesiness. In that regard, its reluctance to shout loud or go melodramatic might be one of its stronger points.

In Your Eyes is, in many respects, an engaging writing exercise, that's ultimately a bit less exciting in its execution. It's deliberately low-key, and nobody could drub it purely for its lack of vampires, space cowboys or Hulk, but the real rug-pull might be that it feels more unremarkable than simply grounded. But we've seen what happens when Whedon's scripts are directed by someone else, and they get away from him, and this isn't that.

While some have described Whedon's directorial style as un-cinematic, there's no film of his that feels less like it needs to be seen in a cinema than this one. That its “global release date” has turned out as accessible and low-key as the film itself might be the best thing for it, and it remains an interesting work whether you're a fan or not.

In Your Eyes is now available to rent via Vimeo On Demand- it's $5 (or £2.97) for 72 hours, and you can find out more here.
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If you've seen In Your Eyes, why not share your comments below? As much as it's interesting to see Whedon do new things, is anyone else really hoping that Dr. Horrible 2 is next after Age Of Ultron?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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