When Joss Whedon revealed that his latest project would be made available for $5 on Vimeo, sci-fi romance In Your Eyes (written by Whedon, directed by Brin Hill) got fans buzzing. However, those expecting something as charming as his last mid-Marvel project should temper their expectations.
Described by star Zoe Kazan as Joss Whedon does Nicholas Sparks (author of The Notebook and A Walk To Remember), it’s the story of Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) and Rebecca (Kazan), separated by geography but tied together by something deeper. He’s a trailer-bound ex-con living in New Mexico, working at a car-wash and failing to woo local girl Donna (Twilight‘s Nikki Reed), while she lives in New Hampshire with her condescending doctor husband Phillip (Royal Pains‘ Mark Feuerstein). When they rediscover the psychic connection they shared as kids, hearing, seeing and feeling what the other does, everything changes.
First and foremost, Whedon fans will be surprised by the script, which is a much more routine affair than we could have anticipated. One or two sequences aside (their first connection is nicely written and played), it’s an often heavy-handed affair that leans heavily on the charm of the two leads to carry it through some pretty rough patches that will, at the very least, have you shouting at the two to pretend to use their phones.
In Your Eyes is so committed to its heartfelt romanticism that criticising it too harshly feels a bit like kicking a puppy, and Stahl-David (Cloverfield) and Kazan (Ruby Sparks) in particular make for an eminently likeable pairing. However, the clunkier sequences make it difficult to ignore the stock elements like the bad husband, the shady friends, and the mood music montages, despite solid work from Feuerstein and Reed, the latter of whom deserved more to do. Their characters are indicative of a script that’s surprisingly lacking in invention.
The film is not big on subtlety. It’s frustrating to see the characters adhere so determinedly to type, as loveable rogue Dylan pulls fragile darlin’ Rebecca away from her conceited husband and sheltered life, through the inevitable “I want to feel you” under-the-covers moment to the required heroism of the finale. The charm of the first half hour begins to dissipate as we can see exactly where it’s going. Perhaps the intention was to create a classic romance that plays by the rules, but this cloys when it should be soaring and later character revelations have the distinct whiff of third act necessity about them.
It’s hard to say if we’d be this harsh if it wasn’t Whedon, but we know that he’s capable of better. Buffy aficionados will tell you that he occasionally wrote episodes to avoid doing what was expected and perhaps In Your Eyes lacks his trademark zinging dialogue for the same reason. There’s an aching sincerity to the film that’s constantly pushed by Hill’s work behind the camera, and there is a chance that you’ll be won over by its open heart (if you think you might, $5 is certainly cheaper than a cinema ticket). However, this paperback romance might have been best served in a short story that matched its warmth with wit, rather than 100-odd treacly minutes, and this is frankly disappointing.