Filmmaker and geek culture icon Joss Whedon made waves last week with the stealth on-demand release of In Your Eyes, the latest production from his and Kai Cole’s Bellwether Pictures. Whedon, who wrote the screenplay, enjoys top promotional billing over the relatively unknown director Brin Hill, but Whedonites expecting his usual fare of whip-smart speculative fiction geared toward pop culture junkies are likely to be disappointed. In Your Eyes bares practically no resemblance to any previous Whedon-penned project. Instead, In Your Eyes is an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable romantic drama with an intriguing premise but no real personality to speak of.
In Your Eyes is the story of Rebecca (Zoe Kasan, The Savages), a shy, wealthy housewife whose doctor husband (Mark Feurstein, Royal Pains) doesn’t value her, and Dylan (Michael Stahl-David, Cloverfield), an adorably awkward ex-con who’s trying to stay on the straight and narrow. The twist is that Rebecca lives in New Hampshire, Dylan’s in New Mexico, and the pair don’t meet in person, or even online – they discover a telepathic bond that allows them to see through each others’ eyes, hear with each others’ ears, and even experience each others’ feelings. The supernatural angle of the film is played as magical realism – there’s no need to explain where the bond comes from, and the lead characters accept and adjust to it rather quickly. It’s a story about how their relationship grows due to their uniquely intimate bond.
Rebecca and Dylan spend much of the film seemingly talking to themselves, whether alone in rooms or walking down the street pretending (or more frustratingly, not even bothering to pretend) to be on the phone. Their connection to each other makes them both feel better about themselves, but clearly distances them from all other social interaction. The film frames other people as the problem, and the two of them as the solution, an ode to romantic codependence that dances dangerously close to Twilight territory, but the chemistry between Kasdan and Stahl-David is undeniable. Like in most romance stories, while mismatched on the surface these two are clearly meant to be together.
Since the ability to share your sights and sounds with someone across the country isn’t such a wild idea in today’s smartphone-fueled world, (the story was originally conceived in the early ’90s) the fantasy angle of having another person in your head and vice versa, interacting by remote, is most interesting when exploring the emotional angle. Early on in the film, Dylan and Rebecca realize that while their connection has only recently presented itself fully, they’ve been sensing each other since childhood. Rebecca can finally explain her wild mood swings, since they’re tied to Dylan’s rough youth, and Dylan realizes that a months-long unexplained depression was due to Rebecca mourning her mother. Later, the device leads to a unique and quite steamy love scene between two people who are each alone in their bedrooms.
The greatest weakness of In Your Eyes is that, aside from the fantasy element, this is an extremely by-the-book romantic drama. The lead characters could be torn right out of a supermarket romance novel. Dylan is a sweet and outrageously hot guy with a rough past who needs a woman to fix him, and Rebecca is an out-of-place trophy wife whose stuffy husband doesn’t understand her and needs a man to show her how to be strong. From a writer like Joss Whedon who’s cultivated a reputation for subverting gender roles, the dynamics of this relationship are shockingly typical. Dylan is a manly man who can fix cars and pick locks (though he does enjoy gardening) and Rebecca is delicate and artistic but doesn’t seem to have any practical skills to speak of (though she does throw a mean right cross).
There may be an element of commentary on gender issues in In Your Eyes, when Rebecca’s controlling husband has her committed to a mental institution rather than address their crumbling relationship, but any allegory about the sickening history of men locking up uncooperative wives is undercut somewhat by the fact that Rebecca is, in fact, speaking to the voices in her head and freaking out about events no one else can see. Given that the rest of the film seems to have little interest in subtext or social commentary, it’s easier to read this as a dramatic plot twist rather than something the viewer is meant to read into.
This isn’t a crime – In Your Eyes is a perfectly adequate date movie with a lot of heart and some excellent performances. Not every movie needs to be ambitious or world-shaking. It’s only a matter of measuring one’s expectations. Joss Whedon is known for writing and producing movies that take on genre, the way Buffy or Cabin In The Woods deconstructed horror or The Avengers redefined the superhero flick. Missing also is Whedon’s famous snappy dialogue and sense of pop culture consciousness, leaving one with the sense that this is a movie that could have been made by anyone. In Your Eyes is not Joss’s statement about romance, it’s just a romance, and it works within all the conventions of that genre rather than pushing against them.
In Your Eyes is available to rent for $5 at InYourEyesMovie.com.