In Your Eyes is a new
Peter Gabriel jukebox musical magical realist romance which tells the story of star-crossed lovers who share a psychic link and can literally see the world through each others’ eyes, despite having never met. The screenplay was written several years ago by Joss Whedon who, in the wake of his Much Ado About Nothing self-production success, tapped director Brin Hill to bring the film to life under Bellweather, LLC, the new small budget production company run by Whedon and his wife, Kai Cole.
There’s been a lot of excitement about Whedon’s decision to release the film on VOD immediately following its Sunday night premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival — the man knows his niche marketing, and has had similar indie success with Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog and Mucho Ado About Nothing. The end product is an enjoyable film that, while a refreshing change from Whedon’s oeuvre, never quite transcends “generic quirky indie romance.”
This isn’t anyone’s fault in particular, but rather the nature of the story. In Your Eyes moves in the broad strokes of any epic romance film, and this was clearly Whedon’s intention. It’s earnest and heartfelt, sometimes to a fault. He took the archetypal structure of something like The Notebook and set it with a supernatural twist (I suspect the impetus for the screenplay was “Generic Romance Script except the characters never meet until the last page. Go!”), and if there’s one thing Whedon knows, it’s experimenting with archetypes. ‘He’s a nice guy ex-con who lives in New Mexico and longs for something else besides his small town life; she’s a kept housewife in New Hampshire with a rich, neglectful husband who longs for some real conversation outside of all the boring dinner party fundraisers.’ It’s the most perfect opposites-attract you can imagine.
But while the setup is solid, and the execution is competent, In Your Eyes never reaches transformative levels. There’s no third act twist (in fact, the third act is about as pitch-perfectly generic as a romance gets, which is both good and bad) or any particularly exciting explorations of the supernatural elements. The idea that these two people are seen as talking to themselves, and that that external craziness is in fact their only anchor to sanity, is really quite touching, even if it’s not explored enough.
Brin Hill directs a competent cast that surprisingly does not include a single Whedon alum as far as I can tell, which probably says a lot about Whedon’s actual involvement in the production (to be fair, he’s got a pretty full plate). Hill does a good job juxtaposing the warm orange hues of the desert with the cool blue colors of New England. While there are a few visual flourishes to demonstrate the psychic link, most of the editing is fairly standard, and the constant cutting between New Mexico and New Hampshire during their conversations gets tedious. This is particularly troublesome because the majority of the film consists of Rebecca and Dylan talking.
**Mild spoilers here**
There are some great moments where they use their link to help each other out — Dylan to help Rebecca avoid getting screwed over on car repairs, and Rebecca to help Dylan on a date. Michael Stahl-David and Zoe Kazan have remarkable chemistry, considering the fact that they never appear on screen together until the final moment (because it’s a romance movie, so of course) and there are some fun scenes where they use their psychic link to get physical, like Dylan slapping himself to slap Rebecca, or their mutual-masturbation-sex (which was as erotic as it was awkward). There’s plenty of that trademark Whedon wit on display as well (“I always thought you were PMS.” “A lot of people get us confused.”)
**End mild spoilers**
But in the end, a lot of the movie is just them talking out loud telepathically. I never believed that Dylan actually had any interest in Donna, and Rebecca’s neglectful wealthy husband is, well, certainly neglectful, and definitely a jerk when it comes to his wife’s mental struggles, but he’s never as evil as the film wants you to think he is.
In a lot of ways, In Your Eyes is a deconstruction of the “romance” genre much in the way that The Cabin in the Woods explored the horror genre. Unfortunately, In Your Eyes ultimately suffers from the genre conventions that it’s forced to follow. One could argue that Whedon’s self-production and subsequent internet release of the film was a failed experiment in ego, as he couldn’t find anyone else to produce or distribute the film. While there may be some truth to that, I suspect that the film would have been even worse off if it had gone through a traditional Hollywood production-and-development process — I’m not confident that any production studio could have done a better job reconciling the self-conscious romance tropes with the supernatural elements and genre commentary. In a rare feat, I actually think this story would have worked better as a novel than a film (how often have you heard that?), so that the reader could actually experience Rebecca’s world through Dylan’s eyes and vice-versa, rather than the viewer as a third-person observer.
In the end, Whedon and Hill present an adequately touching film that’s certainly worth your $5 download. Just don’t expect anything particularly remarkable. Watch the first three minutes below; or, if you prefer, listen to chickens singing “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, just because.
Thom Dunn once armwrestled Joss Whedon. And won. He is a writer and musician who enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey). Thom is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net.