The last film that beloved geek icon Joss Whedon wrote but didn’t direct was The Cabin in the Woods, an ingenious reshuffling of horror tropes. His latest screenplay, In Your Eyes, takes a stab at another genre — the romantic drama — and gives it a supernatural spin. The results are mixed, and it’s missing Whedon’s trademark zing, but fans who savored the sappier aspects of “Buffy” and “Angel” may find it swoon-worthy.
In the spirit of such classics as Sleepless in Seattle, In Your Eyes is about two people who are destined to fall in love but who spend most of the movie geographically separated. Rebecca Porter (Zoe Kazan) lives in New Hampshire, the dutiful wife of a successful doctor (Mark Feuerstein) who drags her to fundraisers and treats her like a child. In New Mexico, recently paroled lock-picker Dylan Kershaw (Michael Stahl-David) is working at a car wash (I like to think it’s Walter White’s) and trying to stay out of trouble.
Rebecca and Dylan have what you might call an extrasensory meet-cute: they discover that they have a psychic connection. Each can see and feel what the other is seeing and feeling. They can’t read one another’s thoughts, but they can hear each other’s voices. They have no idea why or how. As far as they know, there’s no real-world link between them. (Not that being twins separated at birth would explain it, but still.)
They become friends as they realize they’ve had this connection all their lives and just never understood what it was. (An amber-hued flashback at the beginning of the film suggested as much.) Dylan remembers the summer he was depressed because Rebecca’s boyfriend dumped her. Rebecca knows how scared Dylan was his first night in prison. They talk whenever they can, which to bystanders looks like they’re talking to themselves (or on invisible phones).
Of the several directions one could go with this premise, Whedon and director Brin Hill (Ball Don’t Lie) choose to downplay the paranormal aspects (the causes and consequences of Dylan and Rebecca’s ESP aren’t explored) and focus on the emotional ones. Unfortunately, this means falling into some of the same traps as traditional romantic dramas — like making Rebecca’s husband so obviously wrong for her that we grow impatient waiting for her to realize she loves Dylan instead. A sequence where Rebecca acts as Dylan’s wingman, guiding him Cyrano-style through the steps of wooing a girl he likes (Nikki Reed), is an amusing diversion, but still: we know where this is going.
There’s a love scene that serves as the logical extension of the premise but which might be too ludicrous in the execution. I won’t say much about it, just that you walk a tightrope any time you depict passion between characters who are not physically in the same place. Another Whedon-related project might have played it as parody, but In Your Eyes is too sincere for that.
Sincerity is also one of the film’s strengths, though. While Rebecca and Dylan are aware of how bizarre their situation is (“Are you, by any chance, Satan?” he asks her early on), their dialogue isn’t loaded with snarky, self-referential jokes. As viewers, we’re invited to embrace the lovers-connected-by-ESP concept and snuggle up to its inherent drama. To that end, it’s unfortunate that the expressive Zoe Kazan is paired with the handsome but flat Michael Stahl-David, who’s too dull to inspire such strong yearning from such a long distance. Still, there’s no denying the power of a satisfying conclusion to an unusual romance, and Hill’s sentimental touch wins out in the end.
(Editor’s Note: You can now rent In Your Eyes directly from the film’s website.)
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