Title: In Your Eyes
Written By: Joss Whedon (screenplay), directed by Brin Hill
Publication Info: Bellwether Productions 2014
Joss Whedon released a new movie online yesterday with no prior notice – surprise! In Your Eyes is a quirky little love story. It’s underdeveloped and flawed but also sweet and moving, largely due to the acting. If you’ve wondered why no one came to work on April 21, 2014, it’s because we were all at home watching the movie on our laptops. You have to have priorities, you know?
In Your Eyes is the story of two lost people who fall in love because they start chatting on Facebook. No, I kid – they actually experience a phenomenon (completely unexplained, BTW) wherein they periodically experience each other’s emotions and/or see through each other’s eyes. Rebecca, played by Zoe Kazan, is the wife of an ambitious doctor in New Hampshire. Rebecca is fragile, unhappy, and bored. Clearly Rebecca is, by nature, something of a manic pixie dream girl, but her husband wants a corporate wife and forces her to repress any sign of quirkiness or individuality.
Dylan, played by Michael Stahl-David, lives in a trailer in New Mexico and is on parole following his release from prison for burglary. All their lives they’ve been in and out of each other’s heads without ever understanding what was happening. Once they figure it out, they start talking to each other every day and they build an intense connection to each other even though they are separated by most of the country not to mention by their very different lives.
Look, this movie is a bit of a mess, but it’s an incredibly charming mess. There are so many rich ideas in here that aren’t fully explored and so many threads that vanish and reappear as the plot demands it. For the most part, the paranormal aspect really isn’t that important. They could just as well have started an emotional affair via Facebook and Skype. There’s a beautiful moment when Rebecca builds a snowman for Dylan to see, and he watches a New Mexico sunset for her. The idea is that in showing each other things, they have to pay attention to the world around them and to their own lives, which is important because both of them have allowed their lives to drift. But this is largely dropped and they explore their lives through talking, not seeing. The construction of the movie feels off, with many unanswered questions and unexplored themes and a lot of predictability.
Having said that, the writing is full of warmth and empathy – this is, after all, a movie about empathy. That’s where the paranormal aspect is important. Rebecca and Dylan are forced to have empathy for each other, even when they don’t understand each other or when they disagree. Rebecca is surrounded by people who watch her and judge her, but none of them show empathy for her. Dylan’s friends find his determination to stay crime-free incomprehensible at best and threatening at worst.
When the movie works, it works because the actors commit to their roles with absolute conviction and sincerity. Their chemistry and rapport feels utterly natural and so you root for them. They are one of my favorite couples ever because they keep their dialogue so light and effortless and funny even when it’s very sad. They also believe in each other. Rebecca seems confident that Dylan is a good person, even though Dylan has doubts. And Dylan thinks of Rebecca as strong and competent. Everyone else in Rebecca’s life has tried to convince her that she needs to be taken care of, and she believes it. But although Dylan sometimes has to save Rebecca, he tends to do it by showing her how to save herself. Dylan may talk Rebecca through how to pick a lock with a fork, but she has to do the actual deed with her own two hands.
“Look at you!” he crows, “You’re a natural born criminal!”
“I bet you say that to all the girls”, she retorts, smugly.
When I was deciding how to grade this, it’s the actors that pulled it from a C+ to a B-. They are totally determined to sell this movie and they do a great job of it.
Those who are familiar with the Whedon oeuvre might experience some dread regarding our favorite couple. If you are interested, here is a very short spoiler. This spoiler will give a one-word answer to the question: “Is the ending happy or sad”? Depending on the word, you can either arm yourself with tissues and booze or relax already.
SPOILER: The end is happy.
This is a longer SPOILER with details about the ending:
The end is happy, but implausible, even given all the other implausible stuff that happens in the movie. I’m willing to believe in a paranormal connection but I’m not willing to believe that this couple is home free. They can’t ride off to Canada in a boxcar without getting caught. Boxcars have cameras. If they make it off the boxcar, they can’t hide outside because it’s cold, and they can’t hide inside or cross the border or do much of anything, because they have no money and no ID. Rebecca doesn’t even have real clothes. You can build a new identity, but doing it from scratch, with no connections and no resources, seems impossible. Dylan was a housebreaker, not the head of the mafia, for crying out loud. Taken literally, they are clearly only slightly delaying inevitable tragedy. Taken metaphorically, they have been able to break out of the traps imposed on them by others and by themselves, of which the greatest trap was a conviction that things could not get better. They now have direction, connection, and hope. I just wish I could buy that on a literal level!
Here endeth the spoilers!
In Your Eyes was written by Joss Whedon, directed by Brin Hill, and produced by Kai Cole. This is the second film Joss has made with his company, Bellwether Pictures, a film production studio he and his wife, Kai Cole, founded with the purpose of creating small, independent, low-budget films, and it was self-distributed online in a surprise move.
There are some people who are such huge Joss Whedon fans that they feel he can do no wrong. I am a huge Joss Whedon fan, but it’s not because I think everything he does is great. It’s because everything he does is interesting. Sometimes he makes something that is great and interesting. Other times he makes something that’s a mess, but it’s an interesting mess, and this movie is a great example of an interesting, charming, unusual mess. I love what Joss and Kai are trying to do with Bellwether Productions and I love that Joss is not afraid to take risks and experiment. I enjoyed this movie even though I wanted more from it. It’s not Whedon’s greatest work, but it’s well worth watching and I would happily watch it again – I suspect this will rapidly become one of my comfort movies. You know, the kind of thing you watch when you are sad, or when you have the flu.
By the way, Joss Whedon is such a huge force in Hollywood that this movie keeps being referred to as a Joss Whedon movie, but it turns out that Kai Cole, the producer, is a freaking badass. Check out this interview with her at IndieWire and this one at The Credits. Also the director, Brin Hill, creates a beautiful atmosphere that feels like a modern fairy tale. I expect many more great movies from Brin Hill!