Friday, May 2, 2014

In Your Eyes (2014) – Review

Review: In Your Eyes is a powerful romantic drama that plays in the supernatural/sci-fi genre (well, it sort of does). The film is about Rebecca Porter and Dylan Kershaw; although they are separated by thousands of miles and have never met, they share a strange connection. They are able to feel each other’s emotions, see what the other sees, and even speak to one and other – each inside the other’s head. They are different in many ways, but they are both alone in the world and for the first time find something real and meaningful in each other. A romance of sorts develops, but Rebecca is married and Dylan is on parole trying to sort out his life across the country. A real relationship between the two seems impossible, even though a deep connection is forming.

There are a few things that really should hold In Your Eyes back. Chiefly, it looks and feels like a TV-movie (and not the quality, HBO produced kind). The film was produced on a micro-budget and released completely independently online (which is the future of indie film, I think). The look is enough to maybe scare off a few potential views, as it does look and feel a bit cheap (although, that said, it is fairly well-done considering it was made for essentially no money). Secondly, the supporting characters do not bring much to the film, existing merely as foils and plot point-driving narrative pieces. Character-wise, they are all underwritten and emotionally unimportant.

Yet, the main characters, Rebecca and Dylan, are very well written, acted, and developed. Their stories and shared story pulls the audience in, completely overcoming the deficiencies disgusted above (I forgot that the film looked and felt like a cheap TV-movie and that the supporting characters were weak; I was wholly drawn in and engaged by the main characters – like any great romance should).

Director Brin Hill and writer Joss Whedon handle the romance, drama, and comedy between Rebecca and Dylan beautifully. While the narrative does not shy always from genre troupes and clichés (I almost wonder if the title In Your Eyes is a reference to Say Anything… and Peter Gabriel’s iconic song that plays a pivotal role in that film), Hill and Whedon still present something that ultimately feels fresh and vital (again while seemingly embracing genre clichés – Dylan and Rebecca are in many ways just another reimagining of Romeo and Juliet). It is very funny when it needs to be, yet stunningly dramatic and tension filled when the narrative swells. Rebecca and Dylan’s love is that of storybooks, needing to overcome great obstacles. Hill and Whedon are able to elevate In Your Eyes above the constraints of its low budget with Whedon’s great dialog, story structure, and scenes and Hill’s sound directing.  The leading performances are just right too.

In Your Eyes has sort of a fantasy/sci-fi premise, yet it does not define the film or the characters. It is just the manner by which they meet. The filmmakers are also very smart to not try and explain it at all. It is simply just a strange phenomenon connecting these two people. And thus, the film works simply as a strong romantic drama, built (like all good romance narratives) around two people the audience wants to see fall in love with each other who begin to fall in love with each other, but this is Whedon, so a happy ending is not necessarily guaranteed (creating some of the great tension in the film; even though I could guess the plot and ending with ease, I still somewhat discounted myself because there is enough underlying tension that it seems possible that things will just all fall apart).

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Director Brin Hill has made a few other low budget projects (and I am not too familiar with his work), but In Your Eyes is certainly a piece to be proud of for him. Joss Whedon provides a solid script for Hill to build off. It is easy to complain about a lot in the film, but really Whedon does such a wonderful job with his main characters and their story that nothing else really matters. Their narrative simply grabs you and holds you right until the end. You really care about Rebecca and Dylan (something that is becoming rare in most modern romantic films).

The film has a super small budget, and that is clear from the visuals, sound design, and all other production aspects of the film. Composer Tony Morales, however, provides a good score with some catchy songs. Elisha Christian’s cinematography also does a good job showcasing the different worlds Rebecca and Dylan live in. Rebecca’s upper class life in New Hampshire is very bleak and cold (shot with a blue tint), while Dylan’s is quite the opposite visually (his small New Mexico town shot in a warm orange tint), and yet they are both seemingly alone and trapped. Production designers Cindy Chao and Michele Yu (who also designed Whedon’s other micro-budget film Much Ado About Nothing) help create this stark contrast as well.

The cast overall is good, but the two leads are fantastic. Steve Harris, Mark Feuerstein, and Nikki Reed are good with what they are given in support. Michael Stahl-David is very good as Dylan. He creates a character that is charming and sympathetic, but also one who cannot seem to get out of his own way. He desperately wants to be a good man, but his past and his circumstances seem to too easily define him. Stahl-David brings so much energy to the role that it is hard not to immediately like him. Zoe Kazan is wonderful as Rebecca. She has the difficult job of playing a character that is stifled in almost every way, leading to her being in seemingly a constant state of self-doubt (so much so that she has trouble coping, having previously spent time in a psychiatric center). She appears fragile, but Kazan gives her a great inner strength and wonder that is just ready to burst out if only she were supported and loved and not merely sheltered and confined (like a caged bird). Kazan is already a bit of an indie darling, but with the right roles she could breakout; she has the talent. She and Stahl-David have profound chemistry, even though they only physically share one moment. Their performances make the film.

Summary & score: In Your Eyes has many obstacles to overcome (most stemming from its tiny budget) and it is maybe a bit overly sentimental/clichéd (but so are most, if not all, other romantic dramas), but it succeeds wonderfully thanks to beautiful and charming leading performances and a script that loves its two main characters and its genre, the romantic drama. 7/10

Watch the film here.

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