"In Your Eyes," which was written by Joss Whedon and financed by his personal microbudget studio, Bellwether Pictures, made news Sunday night with announcement that it was available for online rental immediately after its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Unfortunately, it turns out to be noteworthy for another reason: It's the worst production with Whedon's name on it in years, and arguably decades. Whedon likes to joke about the "Avengers" movies being his "little passion project," but they're far more infused with his distinctive wit than this flavorless mush.
You have to go back to 2000's "Titan A.E." or 1997's "Alien Resurrection," both based on Whedon's scripts (the latter apparently loosely), to find a project as poorly conceived as "In Your Eyes." At least those two movies were interesting to look at, which is not a case you can make for Whedon associate Brin Hill's flat and colorless images. To find a movie that doesn't work on this many levels, you have to keep traveling backwards until you hit "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" -- not Whedon's landmark TV show, but the dreadful 1992 movie.
Whedon was a screenwriter for hire then, so it's not surprising that whatever might have been good in his scripts got sucked out along the way. But he's now a bonafide brand, enough to be awarded honorary possessory credits for movies he didn't even direct. (This drives my colleague James Rocchi batty, but there's nothing distinctive enough about Hill's direction to merit putting his name in front of the title.) So how is it that "In Your Eyes," which Whedon wrote and produced, feels so un-Whedonesque?
Like a lot of Whedon's work, "In Your Eyes" is based around a Big Metaphor: High school is hell, outer space is the Wild West, and here, a romantic connection is also a psychic bond. Rebecca (Zoe Kazan) and Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) have never met, but they've been sharing experiences and emotions since they were children. She crashes her sled into a tree, he feels the pain thousands of miles away. Believe it, or not.
In adulthood, for no particular reason, their sporadic bond becomes a party line, pulling them out of the drab realities of their everyday lives and letting them literally see the world through each other's eyes. But considering how deftly Whedon explored the idea that love is made up of equal parts pain and pleasure on "Buffy," and his decidedly dark adaptation of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," this you-complete-me-treacle seems like a brand of B.S. he's trying on for size, not an idea with which he connects on any meaningful level.
Whedon knows as well as anyone working that a strong, resonant metaphor is what makes a genre story work: "Buffy" took a while to find its bearings, but it laid out a precise mission statement in its opening scene, where an apparently helpless blonde girl was revealed as a feral bloodsucker. But "In Your Eyes" doesn't take the time or the care to develop its central conceit into much more than a literalization of "I feel like I've known you my whole life," ignoring the possibility that being truly known can be terrifying as well as a relief. But for a bad college visit, my wife and I could have met when we were 18 instead of 28, but there's no guarantee who she was then would have liked who I was then. I don't know about her, but I was kind of a jerk.
The only time "In Your Eyes" does something interesting with its Big Metaphor is in the scene where Rebecca and Dylan have what you could consider the psychic equivalent of phone sex, slipping into each others' consciousnesses while they simultaneously masturbate. The camera slides up and down Kazan's artfully lit body, which is nothing new, but then it does the same to Stahl-David, and then all of a sudden we're seeing a man's body as an erotic object, experiencing his sexual pleasure in a medium where male arousal is usually expressed in apelike grunts. It lasts only an instant, like a desirable destination half-glimpsed from a speeding car. You're not quite sure what you saw, and you want to go back, but there's no turning this movie around.
More reviews of "In Your Eyes"
Tasha Robinson, the Dissolve
Workmanlike director Brin Hill brings a luminescent, sentimental softness to the film, but little personal distinction. Whedon's script is similarly soft: It bucks his usual storytelling pattern by showing the audience something to want, then giving it to them unstintingly, and only with the briefest and most artificial of barriers. It’s a pattern entirely familiar from standard-issue modern rom-coms, which "In Your Eyes" unfortunately resembles in virtually every respect.
Jason Bailey, Flavorwire
Throughout the film, the Whedonite viewer is bound to impatiently wonder when the real movie is going to reveal itself, when the "Cabin in the Woods"-style turn will occur; even during the climax, I found myself hoping we were working our way towards some kind of meta-commentary on the contrivance of romantic happy endings. It certainly doesn't seem like he could be asking us to take this claptrap seriously -- particularly during the howler of a third act, which plays like a fire sale at the endings factory.
Kate Erbland, Film School Rejects
A supernatural romance with roots in the real world, "In Your Eyes'" singular and ambitious idea -- what would happen if you could literally see through another person's eyes? -- is taken in a number of cliched and flawed directions, and the film eventually devolves from intriguing to embarrassing.
Matt Barone, Complex
It's fair to call it his worst work. "In Your Eyes" is by no means disastrously poor -- earnestly made and finely acted, it's a feel-good affair that should no doubt make his legion of devotees quite content. Anyone who's not a Whedon apologist, however, will likely roll his or eyes more than an optometry patient.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
With its modest treatment of a singularly clever idea, "In Your Eyes" successfully offers the lightweight alternative to Whedon's bigger projects: It's cheesy and slight, but persistently smart and entertaining within those narrow parameters. As such, it demonstrates the value of the Bellwether label by ensuring Whedon's sensibilities don't get buried by the spectacles currently overwhelming his career.
Drew Taylor, the Playlist
This is Whedon at his most big-hearted and easily accessible. Sure, there are genre aspects to the screenplay, but they're hardly explored. For two humans gripped with this otherworldly ability, they don’t seem to question it at all. There isn't any exploration as to where it came from or why they were chosen to possess it. Instead, it works almost completely on a metaphoric level.