About a year after dazzling movie fans with his version of Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon has written a different kind of romance with In Your Eyes. It’s different not just because of the story, but his decision to let everyone enjoy it online the day after it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
As Joss mentioned in a special video message at the festival, and in the Los Angeles Times, he’s experimenting with a new distribution strategy of skipping the theaters and releasing it online. It may remind people of how he released Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog nearly five years ago, first for free then on iTunes and other online platforms. This time, he’s doing it with a romance about two people who have a spiritual connection, even though they’re about 2,000 miles apart.
Before we get to the story, here’s Joss’ video message
***** SPOILERS BELOW *****
The story begins 20 years ago when a young girl named Rebecca nervously tries to sled down a hill. Thousands of miles away, a boy named Dylan goes to school. When she prepares to slide, he starts to act strange, as if both kids are experiencing the same thing. Sure enough, as she has an accident and is knocked cold, he’s also knocked out.
In the present day, Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) is trying to rebuild his life in a trailer in New Mexico after spending two years in prison. His parole officer, Giddons (Steve Harris), drops by Dylan’s place, expecting him to slip up and wind up back in prison. Rebecca (Zoe Kazan) is married to Philip (Mark Feuerstein), a hospital administrator. It’s a comfortable life, but not a fulfilling one. She also acts strangely, like suddenly acting during a dinner party as if someone hit her. That’s because Dylan was in a bar fight at that exact moment.
Soon, both Dylan and Rebecca realize they can hear each other, and see what the other sees. It’s like having a smartphone in their heads. It’s been happening for some time, but they didn’t understand what was happening. They enjoy their connection. They even help each other out in interesting ways. However, their odd behavior could also get them in trouble. Philip wonders why his wife is talking to no one, while Dylan’s childhood friends try to talk him into stealing from a deserted tech supply building.
Whedon’s story was a bit predictable, as it hinted both people could wind up in some sort of prison. It also went a bit off the rails because of a tense chase, but it did include a well-deserved punch by someone. Still, Stahl-David and Kazan are an engaging romantic couple, even if they’re apart for most of the movie. Dylan wants to be a better person, but finds it tough when no one thinks that he can be better. Rebecca mentions to Dylan that she has been taught to be afraid, but his love for her gives her faith to be strong. They do have a love scene that reminded me of the connection Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johansson experienced in Her. Director Brin Hill also does a fine job showing the difference between the lovers’ words. Dylan is shown in a harsh yellow light in an unforgiving world. Rebecca’s world is cold, which is why all her scenes are in winter.
Nikki Reed appears as Donna, who Dylan tries to impress during a date at his place, and Jennifer Grey (Dirty Dancing) as Rebecca’s friend Diane, who wonders if Rebecca’s behavior may be a sign of something worse.
In Your Eyes is more imaginative than most rom-coms made by Hollywood. What most people may talk about, aside from the movie, is what impact Whedon’s decision to release it online immediately will have on distribution of other movies. Independent pictures made on a shoestring are more likely to do what he has done. Actually, it’s not that unusual. Many small-budget movies have opted to be available in theaters and on-demand. Some stand-up comics, including Louis CK, released their performances online, and have done well.
By the way, Whedon is not only writer and executive producer, but wrote one of the songs from the soundtrack.