Comet (2014) / Romance-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language including sexual references, and some drug use
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Justin Long, Emmy Rossum, Eric Winter, Kayla Servi
Director: Sam Esmail
Screenplay: Sam Esmail
Review published December 7, 2014
An early scene in the film brings forth a dazzling meteor show, but soon you'll be wishing it were part of a meatier movie.
Here's a film that proves that hipster romance is hardly a romance worth following at all. A man and a woman in their 20s pontificate about life, love, and their own neuroses in Comet, a debut feature film for its writer and director Sam Esmail, which probably will set a record for the most amount of dialogue said by two characters in a 90-minute span in film history. Before Sunrise possibly comes close, but that film at least had characters with interesting, heartfelt things to say, and we can believe fall in love. I don't even see how these characters can even like one another the way they prattle about nothing. Yes, this film is talky, and not in any good way, as the more words that pour out of these self-centered individuals' mouths, the less we like them, and subsequently, the less we care about whether they find happiness in the end.
Six years is the amount of time in a romance that this film covers, told in a non-linear jumble, as we go back and forth from the meeting of the two would-be Los Angelino lovebirds to the point where things begin to crumble, and a few spots in between. Long (Best Man Down, Youth in Revolt) plays the narcissist Dell (hey, I thought he was a "Mac"?), who is addled by a series of phone calls relating his mother's cancer, to which he seems to take as more annoyance than as tragedy. That horrible news doesn't stop him from trying to pick up on geeky cutie Kimberly (Esmail's real-life girlfriend Rossum, Poseidon) while she's with another man (it's more of a meet-ugly than a meet-cute), before they decide to catch a meteor shower at the Hollywood Forever cemetery, where celebrities, and overbearing indie films, go to die.
Esmail displays some chops to think he is a decent director with a good eye for on-screen aesthetic. Where he stumbles is in his own writing, which is full of wit and observation, but is so loaded with artificial conversations that ring hollow that it makes the characters seem like conduits for their creator to dump everything that comes into his head onto the screen, rather than as real people we're supposed to identify with. In short, Comet is overindulgent in its approach, without much regard to make it entertaining for audiences to follow, trying to up the hipness quotient with banal pop-culture name-dropping that offers no real insights to who these characters really are.
The most charitable thing that I'll say about Comet is that it's a visually impressive film. The way it's framed, the pretty-as-a-picture film compositions, and the lush color palette are all top notch. If nothing else, this film will be a great sample of work for its cinematographer, Eric Koretz (Dragonslayer, Stolen Seas), to showcase in order to get bigger and better gigs elsewhere. When you consider that the most touching or moving moments of the film come not from anything in the voluminous pages of dialogue but from the striking, silent moments captured by the camera, you can only conclude that perhaps style can trump substance, and this film could have used less self-analysis and more emotional clarity.
Esmail tries to tap into the cosmic nature of love, but fails to make the actual romance feel elevated emotionally instead of merely overanalyzed intellectually. (500) Days of Summer did similar but far better, and even Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind gets a few nods of homage, but the comparisons to that great film is not in Esmail's favor. It's an ambitious but overbearing film that replaces heartfelt connections and stated feelings with perpetual bickering and banter. When things turn sour, it's not a surprise, since we never felt the love. Talk, talk, talk, but the good stuff only comes into the narrative's orbit once in a great while. For a film which toys with the notion that what we're seeing may be a dream, perhaps the sprawling fantasy of a man about to die, it made me daydream about a better movie that's likely playing at a theater a few parallel universes over.
©2014 Vince Leo