Out of all of Joss Whedon’s film work: two Avengers movies, Serenity, co-writing Cabin in the Woods, along with his uncredited work on Toy Story, and Alien Resurrection (in which he takes no credit), you could be forgiven for overlooking In Your Eyes. Written by Whedon, the film is a romantic sci-fi drama (Joss likes his genre hybrids) directed by Brin Hill. The film follows a man and a woman who share a mental connection despite having never met, and also living in different parts of America. All of the Whedon hallmarks are here: spiffy dialogue, a complex relationship, but there is something that is missing from In Your Eyes that lumps it with the status of a minor work.
The plot plays like a smaller version of the Wachowski’s Netflix show Sense 8, as the two leads share a mental connection that sees them build an unlikely romantic relationship. The couple are Rebecca, played by Zoe Kazan, a troubled woman with an emotionally distant husband, and Dylan, played by Cloverfield’s Michael Stahl-David, an ex-con trying to get his life back together. The premise is simple, and at times quite interesting, but no matter how good the idea is, it sinks when the performers aren’t up to scratch. Zoe Kazan, who is normally so reliable, and at times brilliant in films like Ruby Sparks, flounders here. It doesn’t help that Rebecca seems to be a collection of quirks in human form, yet Kazan conveys a sort of flustered energy, even when the scene doesn’t call for it.
Michael Stahl-David doesn’t fare much better. He seems woefully miscast as Dylan, who is supposed to be a skilled burglar, but has no edge whatsoever. It’s not all the actors fault, as the script feels like one of Whedon’s lazier ideas. It’s telling that, as a director with his kind of clout, he chose not to direct his own screenplay. While there is some nice ideas about star-crossed lovers, neither the script or the performances enabled me to buy into Rebecca and Dylan’s growing relationship. There was also the problem of the typically villainous guy Rebecca is already with. I know this has been a staple in movies as old as time, but there was nothing in In Your Eyes that convinced me that Rebecca would ever be stuck with this guy, they don’t even seem to like each other, making it all the easier for Dylan to swoop in.
One aspect of the film that I did enjoy was Hill’s direction. His use of colour, and framing to contrast the characters different locations, and their moods, was skilfully done, and not too obvious. What was obvious is where the plot was going. Joss Whedon is a big fan of 19th century literature, with Charles Dickens Bleak House being a particular inspiration for his work. There is certainly something Dickensian in the choice of Rebecca’s husband committing her to a psychiatric facility, thanks to her increasingly bizarre behaviour.
It’s when Whedon draws on these influences that the material gets stronger, which belay’s In Your Eyes main problem. Joss Whedon’s best films and TV shows have great characters and plots because Whedon is working with his own characters in a longer format (his TV work), or he is using characters and troupes created by other people (his Marvel movies, and the upcoming Justice League, and Much Ado About Nothing), with Serenity being a perfect amalgamation of these skills. In Your Eyes doesn’t have the wealth of time that Whedon’s other works for us to really get to know the characters: meaning that there is a lot more broad strokes ion the story-telling.
In Your Eyes is an interesting film, and Brin Hill does well enough in the directors chair, but a poor script and bad casting keep this from being anything other than throwaway.