The character arc in a romantic film is one of the most relatable and recognizable in all of cinema, yet one could argue that the most interesting part of a love story is the point where most movies wrap up. We often get to see the knight slay the dragon, save the princess and win her hand, but what happens three years later? Sam Esmail’s 2014 film Comet explores the beginning and ending of a relationship as well as the significant points in between, and tries to show the audience what happens during “happily ever after.”
Comet kicks off by informing the audience that the film’s events “take place over six years (a few parallel universes over)” and offers viewers many reasons to contemplate whether the events of the film are occurring in a dream, across multiple dimensions, in the afterlife or in the mind of a shattered lover; all are viable theories that do not add or take away from the experience. The film keeps the audience questioning the character’s plane of reality with certain visual flourishes such as having the end of each scene transition in a jarring fashion that resembles watching a television station that is receiving a weak, intermittent signal, creating a visual interpretation that the screen is phasing through multiple dimensions.
The film wastes no time introducing us to Dell and Kimberly, two soon to be lovers that meet at the Hollywood Forever cemetery on the eve of a meteor shower. Dell is cynical, abrasive and lives in anticipation of what can go wrong while Kimberly is content to appreciate existing inside of the moment. The topsy-turvy story winds into, out of and around several of the most significant points in their time together and depicts how their opposing perspectives helped or hindered them inside of their relationship.
Real life love and movie love are completely different animals and Comet tries to give us a very intimate and relatable film experience by bridging the gap between the two. Movies often portray love as an unwavering force that inspires self-assuredness and passion. In real life, we are all different people on different days; strong, weak, confident, insecure and the way we appreciate and reciprocate love is often less than ideal. The way Comet explores Kimberly and Dell’s relationship is like forcing us to stare into a shattered mirror, revealing fractured, incoherent bits and pieces of the lovers at their best, worst and many points in between. The film does a great job depicting the bitterness and pettiness that takes root after a relationship moves past the novelty stage, as well as the hurt and regret that comes along with taking a lover for granted. Films often make a point of highlighting loves manic highs and lows, but few depict it as fleeting between hefty and trifling as accurately as Comet does.
Comet is a film that feels like a two-person play and its success or failure lies squarely at the feet of the two leads. It’s disappointing that the film does not bother to give us a reason to find characters at the heart of the film endearing. Justin Long begins the film with a caustic personality that transforms from crotchety to petulant over the course of the movie. Emmy Rossum has far less exposition and most of her behaviors are puzzling. The script tries to humanize the characters by throwing a smattering of pop culture references into their exchanges. Much of the dialogue in Comet sounds like film dialogue trying very hard to sound like a natural conversation and feels as awkward as an unhip dad trying to talk to his teenage daughter’s friends.
With the majority of modern films casting romance under such an idealized light, it is essential to represent the version of love portrayed in Comet far more often. Unfortunately, Sam Esmail counter-balances his ambitious depiction of an unsustainable romance with the film’s poor execution. Most of the film’s audience will have endured the kind of love and loss that should have made the film’s leads instantly relatable yet the film went out of its way to keep us from warming up to them. A small injection of wit and charm could have been the difference between invoking empathy or disdain for Dell and Kimberly’s story. Comet is an intriguing concept that “almost” does something very interesting. However, I don’t enjoy investing ninety minutes of my time into “almost”. If the viewer wants to see a proper take on how a loving relationship can gradually wither away, they should watch 2010’s Blue Valentine.
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