CliqueClack Flicks

Another Earth – Disappointing and overly pretentious drama with a sci-fi twist

Another Earth - Theater Review
Release Date: 07/29/2011 - MPAA Rating: PG-13
Clacker Rating: 2 Clacks

'Another Earth' presents an interesting sci-fi conceit and dramatic story arc but fails to live up to its potential.

Another Earth

Have you ever thought a movie could seem “smug”? Overly satisfied with itself and its cleverness? That’s Another Earth, a drama with a sci-fi twist from director and writer Mike Cahill with co-writer Brit Marling, who also stars as the main protagonist (they previously collaborated on documentary Boxers and Ballerinas). The conceit of the film is clever enough, barring its complete tossing out of actual science — another planet suddenly appears in the night sky and on closer examination is revealed to be an exact duplicate of our own planet.

But that’s not the actual story — we get hints and winks in the background of interesting possibilities and concepts, but rarely do they percolate to the main story. The sci-fi idea is mainly used as an overwrought metaphor in a way that quickly becomes very obvious. The story starts with young Rhoda (Brit Marling) readying to go to MIT to pursue astronomical academics (naturally), but when she hears about the sudden appearance of a new visible planet in the sky, she stares into the sky while driving, slightly intoxicated, from a party. She collides with another car, a husband and wife with a young child — the husband lands in a coma, while his family perishes in the accident. Rhoda gets sent to prison for four years for unspecified and not entirely logical charges (the movie later even makes it clear she was a minor, so it makes even less sense).

She emerges from prison listless and depressed, getting a job as a janitor at a local high school (how symbolic!). Eventually she tracks down the surviving husband, a composer played by William Mapother (Lost) who’s living a dingy and lonely life in an empty house. Rhoda plans to apologize to him, but chickens out and pretends to be from a cleaning service. Of course, through a series of illogical and ill-made decisions on both their parts, they inevitably end up in a creepy and disheartening relationship.

The movie presents the idea of an alternate world where the mistakes you’ve made may not have occurred — the metaphor of a mirror world presenting through the lens of these characters becomes less clever and more pushy as the movie continues to its not entirely logical ending. There is very little dialogue, but an awful lot of meaningful staring at things while emotional music plays … although much of it is at the Other Earth in the sky, which is admittedly a startling visual effect.

There is not a problem with the acting, which is quite good, and the dialogue, when it shows up, isn’t bad at all. The directing is okay, occasionally making far too much use of the shaky cam effect. It is the story and plot that are the real problems with this film. That, and the film thinking itself far more interesting than it should. If the movie was a person, it’d be winking at you.

The ridiculous behavior of the two main characters leads to a lack of empathy or true connection with them, leaving the viewer unable to honestly invest in the film. It is a dangerous thing to write and star in a movie, and although I applaud Brit Marling for her effort and acting, I cannot do the same for her restraint, which is sadly lacking. When you write a character that you imagine yourself playing, you make assumptions about them that an audience might not. The movie ends with a predictably ridiculous set of events, both of which really frustrated me — the first made sense even in the context of the film, and the second annoyed me because it was a far better ending than the movie deserved to utilize.

I might be accused of “not getting it,” but I think I get it pretty well. The movie uses the sci-fi concept as a way to explore the decisions we make and the mistakes that change our lives, which isn’t a bad thought, but it is just so pleased with itself, I can’t help but find it disappointing considering it could have been a more subtle and affecting take on things. And sci-fi fans will certainly be disappointed by the overall lack of actual sci-fi (although considering the film’s $200,000 budget, it’s not like they had much to work with).

I suppose the real issue I had was that I saw the potential of a truly great film here, but I am annoyed that others are bamboozled by the spectacle. But perhaps you should see it and decide for yourself. Perhaps I’m just not capable of understanding its understated brilliance.

But I doubt it.

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Categories: Reviews, Theater Releases

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