Tribeca Film Festival 2014 Review: ‘In Your Eyes’

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Director Brin Hill’s charming film, In Your Eyes, gained much of its publicity from the name inscribed on the chair of the executive producer—and for good reason. Though supergeek Joss Whedon is more broadly known for his work on Marvel’s megahit The Avengers, dedicated Whedonites swear by his earlier (paradoxically labeled) “cult hits” such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and bite-sized miniseries Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. These shows all bear the traditional Whedon mark of genre-mashing: Buffy turns horror into a coming-of-age tale, Firefly is a space opera that merges wild, wild westerns and science fiction, and Dr. Horrible presents a musical inversion of the hero-villain dichotomy. Whedon’s projects are also known for their lighthearted—but not glib—self-awareness, all of which lay bare a heartfelt, idealistic core.

These Whedonesque hallmarks also permeate throughout In Your Eyes, a movie that unabashedly bills itself as a metaphysical love story. Brin Hill wanted to tell a tale that was “fun” and “sweet,” and, if nothing else, he accomplished just that. In Your Eyes tells the story of the preternatural connection between Rebecca Porter (Zoe Kazan), the sheltered housewife of a successful New Hampshire doctor, and puppy dog-eyed Dylan Kershaw (Michael Stahl-David), a smart kid who Fell In With The Wrong Crowd and ended up serving jail time. As the film’s title suggests, Dylan and Rebecca’s connection enables each of them to literally see the world through the other’s eyes and, for better or for worse, to physically feel the other’s sensations as well. It’s no spoiler to admit that their mental link is never actually explained; the nature of this movie is that it propels viewers past “Is this possible?” and straight to “What if this was possible?” The result is a story that is both more simplified and more profound.

Rebecca and Dylan conveniently discover their connection at a point when they’re both deeply dissatisfied with the direction of their adult lives. Becky is smothered by a husband so overprotective that his motivations can only be interpreted as sinister, and Dylan broods about living out the rest of his days in a trailer, washing cars with a wistful expression that suggests he wishes he could wipe away the grime of his past just as easily. The film paints these characters a bit too categorically, with Becky’s bulging jewels and stainless steel countertops serving as blatant evidence of her status as an upper-class suburbanite, and Dylan’s dirty Hanes t-shirt and three-day scruff reflect none too obliquely his solitary, blue-collar existence.

But the actors’ performances flesh out their characters nicely, making them feel both real and likable. Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of famed director Elia Kazan) plays the none-too-social socialite with a doe-eyed vulnerability, and Michael Stahl-David evokes a young Ethan Hawke with his ruggedly handsome, romantic gawkiness. If there’s one aspect of Stahl-David’s performance in particular that flies under the radar but makes his character all the more tangible, it’s his subtle yet aching depiction of the lives of paroled felons. (As he revealed after the movie screening, his personal interviews with local L.A. convicts helped him to truly understand the difficulties of adapting to life after jail. His performance, in turn, helps audience members understand a bit more as well.)

The stars’ on-screen chemistry is particularly impressive given that they barely appear together on-screen at all; to communicate, one speaks out loud and the other responds from two time zones away. Somehow, this relationship works, like a lovingly crafted mash-up of Her and Ruby Sparks that doesn’t bother with distracting trifles of metaphysical realism. (Incidentally, Ruby Sparks also stars Zoe Kazan, which may be one of the reasons her semi-magical persona is so convincing.) The audience, blessed with the ability to see through both characters’ eyes, gains a sense of wholeness from their rapport. And though the film often conforms to tropes of convention and convenience—Rebecca’s married, but not happily; Dylan’s a felon, but not a Bad Guy—it does so for the larger purpose of highlighting the beauty and depth of their friendship and, eventually, romance.

In one memorable scene, a friend of Rebecca’s attempts to approach her about her problem of (as it would appear to the outside world) “talking to herself.” Rebecca, having established the actual existence of Dylan long ago, misunderstands her friend and believes her to be accusing her of having an affair.  When the flustered friend eagerly accepts that explanation for Rebecca’s odd behavior over the alternative, Rebecca snaps at her, “I’m not having an affair. I’m just crazy.” Well-aimed barb at mental health conceptions aside, viewers are never seriously expected to consider that either Rebecca or Dylan is a figment of the other’s imagination. Indeed, the magic comes from abandoning pragmatism and embracing their relationship as it imagines itself to be.

In Your Eyes is available for viewing on Vimeo On Demand.

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