Playing like a blend of Annie Hall, Before Sunrise and Interstellar, Comet boldly strikes for fresh and exciting ground. We follow a girl (Emmy Rossum) and a boy (Justin Long) as they meet, fall in love and then battle love’s trials and tribulations, so far so average. The added spice comes in the form of a fragmented timeline and the prevalent theory of parallel universes. We are asked to view the film as we would a painting; not looking for a clean narrative that goes from beginning to end but instead focusing on frozen moments that juxtapose and enhance each other in the search for a greater truth. Comet doesn’t quite manage to speak louder than the sum of its parts, but it makes a valiant and entertaining attempt.
By coincidence I recently saw Nick Paynes’ Constellations, a play which also uses the parallel universe theory to comment on relationships, commitment and the effects of the choices which we make. Whilst the two narratives do plot different courses and have very different focuses there are enough similarities (they both even have astronomical titles) to not warrant some level of comparison. Whereas Payne’s work has no obvious descendants and functions entirely as a contemporary piece of theatre, designed and directed exclusively for the stage, Comet aims to heavily draw from and then reconfigure a tired and often notably unimaginative genre. Whilst it lacks some of Constellation‘s great sensitivity and depth, it intelligently uses genre set pieces to then comment upon and reshape them in its own image. Unfortunately what lets it down from time to time is the use of cliched ‘romantic’ lines which we have heard a million times before. These aren’t overturned but instead are intended earnestly and consequently cheapen the scenes in which they’re deployed.
One of the film’s strongest aspects is Emmy Rossum. The actress who’s most well known for Shameless and 2004’s The Phantom of the Opera displays a real natural skill and depth here, especially in the film’s moments where her character is asked to be at her freest. The film owes many of its laughs to her easy delivery and comedic timing. Her co-star Justin Long has a difficult job here as he has to play an extraordinarily obnoxious and narcissistic character who is infinitely unlikable. He does a good job at making the man bearable, which is no easy challenge, but he cannot make him accessible in the way that say Woody Allen can in Annie Hall (his most obvious cinematic ancestor) because there isn’t the charm or the parodic knowingness present in the script.
What makes Comet particularly enjoyable is both its overreaching ambition and the presence of Emmy Rossum. It’s a little too mannered to completely reach its full potential but there’s a really strong effort made here and the end result is funny, touching and pleasingly unpredictable. It’s exhilarating to see such an inventive and bold approach to the rom-com genre, an experience only slightly marred by seeing Constellations so recently. If some of the cliched dialogue could have been cut it would have helped the film along but this is still a funny, insightful and beautifully shot film which marks writer/director Sam Esmail and Emmy Rossum as talent to look out for.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Emmy Rossum delights here, demonstrating great comedic and dramatic ability.
Its greatest weakness? The relatively common cliched dialogue does a fair bit of damage.
Would I see it again? Certainly. It’s not perfect but it’s an enjoyable and pleasingly fresh take on its genre.
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