I’m honestly not totally sure how to write about In Your Eyes, the new movie that Joss Whedon surprise-released online like he’s Beyonce. It’s the second feature from director Brin Hill, and he did a really great job with this odd little supernatural romance that was written by Whedon himself. The movie opens with a scene that focuses on two kids. One, a girl named Rebecca, is having a snow day, the other, a boy named Dylan, is at school somewhere warm. The scene cuts between the two — she’s timid and trying to sled, he’s smart but hangs with a bad crowd — until she loses control of her sled and crashes into a tree, which knocks him unconscious, thousands of miles away. Then it picks up maybe twenty years later when she is a doctor’s wife and he is an ex-con on parole, and suddenly they realize that not only do they share sensory experiences, they can talk to each other as well.
Given the premise, and the fact that we are calling it a supernatural romance, which calls to mind something like Twilight or The Vampire Diaries, Hill keeps the film very firmly grounded. It could almost be about two people who met online and constantly FaceTime each other. Almost. Hill smartly keeps the focus on the relationship between the two leads and the real world consequences of their psychic connection, without regard to the whys and hows of the connection’s existence. He also doesn’t overplay the barriers keeping the eventual lovers apart. They are there, and they are obvious, but there isn’t much hand-wringing over their vastly differing circumstances. The whole movie really rests on the audience understanding why the bond becomes so important to the pair, and Hill sets that up expertly.
Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David give bravura performances as the two leads. Most of the movie is them talking to each other as they go about their day, do chores, run errands, etc, which means that for most of the movie Kazan and Stahl-David are having long conversations with no one. Their warm, easy relationship and convincing chemistry is a testament to the nimble work of editor Steven Pilgrim, but the actors also do really great work, making potentially cringe-worthy situations seem adorable, particularly when they are looking through the other’s eyes, which means basically staring at nothing. Of course, their private, unseen interactions spill over into their physical lives, leading to sometimes funny, sometimes unpleasant consequences. It’s not really socially acceptable to talk to yourself, or dance with yourself, or react to a fire no one else can see, especially if you’re an ex-con or have a history of mental instability, and that drives the plot forward in a very aristotelian way.
Whedon’s script is tight and witty. The conflicts rise organically from well-established situations and character traits, not from contrivances. It makes sense that Dylan and Rebecca would retreat into their connection to the point where it has a negative impact on their lives. It makes sense that they don’t just immediately abandon everything to be together. It makes sense that a status-obsessed doctor isn’t going to put up with a crazy wife forever. And considering that so much of the film is just talking, the dialog is great, although Whedon has always done that well. My only complaint is that by keeping the focus so tightly on the film’s main relationship, we get less time with the excellent supporting cast, but that isn’t really a flaw.
Other than Marc Feuerstein, who plays Rebecca’s husband and serves as the principal antagonist, the supporting cast is underused, but I probably wouldn’t complain about that if they weren’t so uniformly excellent. Don’t cast Cress Williams and only give me two scenes with him. I have never been a big fan of hers, but Nikki Reed is a standout as the pleasant but dim Donna. It’s a small part, and she underplays it in a really nice way. Steve Harris is Dylan’s parole officer, and I could have enjoyed a very different movie about his attempt to keep him on the right side of the law. Harris is a unique mix of sanguine and cynical here, and it is interesting to watch in every scene. The aforementioned Feuerstein plays against type here as a total dick, and it works really well. He has a fairly gentle demeanor, so you sometimes almost buy that he’s being kind. But really, nope, he’s a dick.
In Your Eyes is the second release from Bellwether Pictures, the production company Whedon and his wife founded to bring micro budget films straight to audiences. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival two days ago and was immediately released on Vimeo on Demand. I get why they did it that way, as finding new avenues to the audience is sort of the raison d’etre of the production company, but the only frustrating part of watching the movie was the occasional pause for buffering. It also would have been nice to see the wide open New Mexican backdrop and the snowy New Hampshire landscapes on a screen larger than my 11” MacBook Air. Other than that, though, I really can’t complain. I found myself smiling almost all the way through.
You can rent the movie now on Vimeo. $5 will let you watch it unlimited times for 72 hours.