TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: Had this film been in the wrong hands, things could have turned out oh so very badly. In Your Eyes has a premise that has more than a hint of Nicholas Sparks in it, but producer/writer Joss Whedon is more than capable of elevating that sort of a thing, and he certainly does that here for director Brin Hill‘s flick. Along with a pair of great lead performances from Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David, Hill and Whedon take the latter’s distinctive dialogue and really let it fly. This is a romantic drama that utilizes a bit of a gimmick to tell a really well done story of two people just connecting in a profound way. Give or take a few moments of melodrama and a slightly too relaxed pacing at times, this is a high quality movie and one of the highlights of the Tribeca Film Festival so far for me. Kazan and Stahl-David have already been in two of my favorite 2014 releases to date (The Pretty One for the former and Love & Air Sex for the latter), so this is now another one that can be in contention for my best of list. In Your Eyes is a bit sappy at times, but it’s always coming from an honest place.
After a prologue where we meet our protagonists as children and get a hint about the connection they share, we fast forward to their lives today. Rebecca Porter (Kazan) lives a comfortable yet boring life in the shadow of her successful yet controlling husband Phillip (Mark Feuerstein). Dylan Kershaw (Stahl-David) is now an ex con dealing with a gruff parole officer (Steve Harris) and some no good friends who want to make use of his lock picking abilities. He lives in a trailer and more or less is a screw up, though the pretty girl at the bar named Donna (Nikki Reed) seems to like him just fine. I don’t want to explain just how Rebecca and Dylan begin communicating, but they have a special bond that starts as a friendship and slowly grows into something much more profound. They’re each able to help the other one out in certain situations and also make their lives harder in other ways. It all builds to a bit of a hokey climax, but I’d argue that the film more or less earns that sort of a bold gesture. At the very least, it doesn’t end on a whimper.
Both Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David are top notch here. I’ve long raved about Kazan, and this is just another great role that she sinks her teeth into, while I’d go so far as to say that Stahl-David has never been better than he is here. Their chemistry is just phenomenal. Kazan makes you fall in love with her while Stahl-David consistently charms you. Mark Feuerstein sometimes gets a bit too clear of a villain for my tastes, though he never twirls a mustache or anything like that. Nikki Reed is a tad wasted, though she’s certainly solid in her small part. The aforementioned Steve Harris doesn’t get too much to do, while the supporting cast includes the likes of Jennifer Grey, Reed Birney, and a few others. That being said, this is clearly Kazan and Stahl-David’s show, with the best scenes being the ones where they’re deep in conversation.
The duo of Hill and Whedon seem to have set out to do something similar to what Jason Reitman did (or according to many of you, attempted to do) with Labor Day, which is to take sappy melodrama and combine it with more realistic emotions and top notch filmmaking. Whedon’s script especially is successful here, making for a wittier movie than you’d ever expect to find. Hill is a solid director, if one who’s not trying to reinvent the wheel here. There is one somewhat bold sequence that involves almost a sex scene of sorts, but more or less Hill is more than happy to let the cast just do their thing, and that’s a fine choice, considering the juicy material they have to work with.
Basically, In Your Eyes is the sort of potentially sappy romance that’s cleverly elevated by a strong screenplay and a pair of winning lead performances. I’d love to see this gain a bit of an audience, and Whedon actually has set out to make that happen*. If you’re a fan of Whedon’s or a member of the cast (like I am with Kazan), then In Your Eyes is something that you really should see. It won me over here at Tribeca, and I think it can win you all over as well.
*A special note, the film is actually available to rent currently on its website after a special announcement by Whedon. I recommend making use of this offer and checking it out.*
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!