MOVIE REVIEW: Another Earth (2011)

(Originally posted on 8-28-11)

Is it considered a spoiler if I say that this movie sucked right in the first sentence of this review? Because it did and I am clueless as to why it has gotten as much praise as it has.

The big idea is kinda clever, even if a little played – another Earth has appeared and it looks exactly like our Earth and they are heading towards each other and how this impacts the lives of two people specifically. The execution, however, is pretentious and so very, very emo that I felt like I could never find a pair of black jeans tight enough to make me the right audience for this film (regardless of the fact of whether anyone would really want to see me in pants like that).

Brit Marling stars as Rhoda (seriously) a girl who, at the beginning of the film as the discovery of the other Earth is being announced, drives home from a party after imbibing heavily in the regulated spirits. William Mapother plays John, a music professor, who is happily married and has a beautiful son (or daughter, the kid could have been either) that he dotes on.

This all probably sounds better on paper, but the startling pretentious way in which it is all executed and the complete lack of any emotional connection with either character (or secondary characters, all of which seem to be there to just check off a list to try to give each character a rounder life from which they can be demonstrated as having been alienated) only serves to suck out any soul that it might have.

Anyway, everything starts with Rhoda driving home while listening to news reports of this new found planet that looks exactly like our planet. John meanwhile is pulling up at a red light near the beach with his wonderful, picture perfect family. While stopped at the intersection (even after it cycles back to green), oblivious to the outside world while caught up in blissful suburban joy, Rhoda plows into him from behind at full speed (not sure if this is a metaphor for something else, but almost everything else in the movie is) instantly killing John’s wife and son and putting him into a coma.

I have no idea why John didn’t see fit to continue on their way when the light turned green other than to hit home as clearly and obviously as possible how wonderfully happy they were as a little familial unit – so happy in fact that in the middle of the night at a 3 way stop with a light, rather than start driving on a green they would rather just sit there and soak in each other’s presence, laughing and smiling, joyfully oblivious to the world. And that pretty much sums up the whole movie – rather than allow the characters to act in some way remotely resembling real people, the filmmakers underline every moment.

The premise itself is very intriguing and is rife with potential, but they do so little with it. Other than on a conceptual level, it is never explored. The director (Mike Cahill) doesn’t help matters with his over bearing over use of what is commonly referred to as shaky cam and emphatic use of marginally motivated zoom to punctuate Rhoda’s emotional states. Rhoda, who was also the screenwriter (the actress that is, not the character) has no logical arc and slingshots between being healthily attractive to colorless and depressed, sometimes in the exact same scene from one shot to the next.

Most of the effort of the filmmakers is expended on camerawork that feels almost immediately from the beginning pretentious and overbearing, yelling out, “Look at how clever I am!!” visually.

Each character moment felt specifically designed to get the story from one unlikely character trait or moment to the next.
• John answers the door in his bathrobe, unshaven – he is a recluse shut off from the world
• A prostitute shows up as Rhoda leaves, John needs human contact but he is afraid of intimacy
• Rhoda takes a job as a school custodian, she feels like she doesn’t deserve her life
• Rhoda moves her mattress under the window under a picture of the other Earth, she longs to be somewhere else

These would all be fine normally, but here it just feels cynically like a check list the filmmakers are making sure to address for maximum emotional impact, which they never achieve.
• Horrendous accident
• Self imposed isolation
• Spiritual awaking from mystical old Indian
• Depth of feeling by playing a wood saw (seriously, pretty much right out of the Ed Sullivan show)

There are a lot of scenes trying to show how alienated our lead feels from the world, from her family, from her former self. From life in general. From the World even (get it?).

Additionally, there are only so many scenes comprised entirely of meaningful looks or soulful stares that a person can stand.

The semi-shock ending would have delivered more of a punch if the decisions that let up the big decision had been more pronounced or more earned, but everything that happens just happens. Decision points pop-up and then pass with little to no energy.

I had an argument with some friends when, after seeing the movie, I posted in my Twitter review (writing a review in 140 characters is not easy) that it had no real honesty in it. So just to be clear when I say it has no honesty, I mean that there are no emotionally real moments in the whole thing. Every scene feels contrived and forced.

If I made this movie, I would have kept the same general structure (but without all of the soulful gazes) for the first act, and then started the second act with our star her other Earth self getting to know each other, while in the background the two Earths start to come together also. And then in the third act, we learn that Earth 2 is actually a Nega-Earth – evil and completely bent on our destruction, which would also destroy them. So emo, Another Earth is trying to commit suicide.

The writing reminded me, far too much (and believe me I should know, I have written my share) of any number of High School Creative Writing class attempts at deepness. And on these terms alone I would have been okay with it, but not after it is lauded with lauds and regaled with regales and paying 8 dollars to see it. It is all concept and artifice, in search of a bit of real heart, or truth, or actual experience in life, or just the touch of real soul.

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