Having hosted The Avengers ahead of its U.S. theatrical debut, the Tribeca Film Festival was happy to serve as the stage for the world premiere of Joss Whedon's latest film, In Your Eyes, a supernatural love story he penned and produced. After it played to an eager audience at TFF, Bellwether Pictures leapt to announce its instant release online, where it can be streamed for a rental fee of $5. But is this Whedon work one that fans will welcome?
I doubt it.
In Your Eyes aims to tell a delicate love story with touches of metaphysical wonder. It begins with two children, Dylan and Rebecca, who are living far apart and very different lives. Yet, they share some unexplained link that allows them to occasionally see through each other's eyes, causing one to pass out in school when the other endures a painful sledding accident. Cut to many years later. Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) is an ex-con, scraping by in New Mexico, trying to get his life together. Rebecca (Zoe Kazan) is a timid housewife on the East Coast, enduring tiresome dinner parties and recurring whispers about her mentally unstable past. They seem so different, but--this link assures us--they are meant to be together!
Over the years, these two have never quite figured out what these bizarre flashes of another's life meant. But now they've developed the ability to converse, as long as they speak aloud and are tapped into each other. With both of them feeling lost and alone, this bond is a solace, and soon becomes the lifeline each needs to pull themselves out of their miserable routines. While this concept has potential, Whedon's script takes just about the least interesting path it could, driving to a climax that is unbelievable and frustrating.
The two have conversations that play out like phone calls minus phones, meaning we get scene after scene of each of them doing some random chore while staring off into the mid-distance carrying on a conversation with someone they don't share the frame with. It's remarkably un-cinematic, and director Brin Hill brings little that is visually engaging into the story, save for one scene.
After growing their bond to a point where they can experience what the other touches, Rebecca and Dylan share a pretty steamy long-distance sex scene, where Hill smartly breaks down the physical barriers and gives us glances of Kazan's hands caressing Stahl-David's body, and vice-versa. We know they aren't actually there, but finally Hill is using the visual language of film to tell us how these two feel. It works so well here that I grew increasingly annoyed that some similar method hadn't been employed sooner. Hell, split screens would have played better than the dull cutting back and forth from one locale to the other.
Both Kazan and Stahl-David are charming enough in their roles. But the characters are thinly written, which is shocking considering character development has always been one of Whedon's strongest areas. Similarly, their stakes and obstacles feel hollow and clichéd. Then, they are flanked by a handful of stereotypes like the white trash flirt (Nikki Reed), the narrow-minded husband (Mark Feuerstein), and the nosey society friend (Jennifer Grey). Kazan has described In Your Eyes as "Joss Whedon does Nicholas Sparks," and basically nails it. But the shallowness of Spark's storytelling is not something I'd ever wish on a Whedon concept. Yet here, we find it.
Ultimately, this concept doesn't gel well with film. It's easy to imagine it working better as a play, where the characters could exist in separate sets, but on the same stage. There their actual physical proximity could reflect their bond even as the sets would signify their distance. We could have seen them work in sync in a way that would prove powerful, like a dance number or a sex scene. Instead, each is trapped in an isolated frame, grinning to themselves and talking (seemingly) to the air. That just doesn't make for good cinema. Overall, In Your Eyes is a curious experiment and a sweet love story, but it lacks the challenging drama, razor-sharp wit, and radiant verve that I typically associate with Whedon's writing. It feels oddly off-brand, like Whedon Lite. But if that's enough for you, In Your Eyes is now available online.