'Comet': Film Review
Justin Long and Emmy Rossum star in filmmaker Sam Esmail's attempt at reinventing the boy-meets-girl romantic dramedy.
Just as Woody Allen once intended to title Annie Hall, Anhedonia, Sam Esmail might well have called his debut feature not Comet but Logorrhea. The writer-director tries very hard to inject new life into the traditional boy-meets-girl romantic dramedy — but way too hard. Although there’s talent on display in all aspects of this time-jumping, visually distinctive independent that rests its commercial hopes on the names of leads Justin Long and Emmy Rossum, Esmail strenuously overplays his hand with the torrent of obnoxious dialogue he asks his male lead to deliver, which is enough to make one want to run out several times for a breather. It’s possible that certain young viewers might connect with the romantic spirit that smolders somewhere under the frantic, motormouthed verbal compulsion on display here, but most will wonder if the effort is worth it.
The yakking starts right off the bat at the unusual location of the Hollywood Forever cemetery, a real-life site of popular nocturnal screenings of older films. Although Kimberly (Rossum) is there with a very handsome guy (Eric Winter), this doesn’t prevent Dell (Long), said to be a research scientist, from coming on to her with all the grace of a bulldozer; he assaults her with a barrage of commentary about anything and everything, some of it bright and witty and coherent, but much of it total BS. She’s partly standoffish but sufficiently surprised and amused enough to not tell him to buzz off.
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The pattern is much the same in the four other stages of their relationship, spanning a six-year period, that are layered into the mix. Be it in a Paris hotel room where they’re preparing to attend a wedding, a fanciful old-style train ride set a year after their first breakup, a phone call and a years’ later reunion, Dell, consciously or not, seems to be trying to keep the relationship alive simply by talking all the time; the unacknowledged impulse would appear to be that, if he just keeps jabbering, Kimberly will never have the opportunity to call things off.
In the course of what are as often his virtual monologues as they are conversations, Dell zigzags from sarcastic quips and colossal self-put-downs to genuine insight and lyrical, even metaphysical heights; in fact, his verbal cascades sometimes seem like defiant, even heroic attempts by one man to fill the void by battling against it with every breath. The guy definitely has something going for him, but no one ever taught him how to edit himself, or that women like to be asked about themselves and their views. If Dell were to go on like this with everyone he meets (he’s scarcely ever shown talking to anyone but Kimberly), he could never hold down a job or keep a friend; it’s entirely possible he has neither.
His relentless, domineering style certainly stems from insecurity; there’s no question that Kimberly controls the relationship. She may be neurotic, but not uncharmingly so. Other than the fact that she can call the shots and he is obviously nuts about her, it’s hard to glean why she keeps Dell in her life as long as she does; the film is so wrapped up in Dell’s maniacal need to speak, be heard and valued that Kimberly’s character gets short shrift despite sharing the screen the whole time.
That said, Esmail does succeed in creating an ambiance of palpable, if sometimes odd, romanticism, by virtue of Dell’s surging need and the story’s concentrated focus, as well as with atmospheric special effects (a meteor shower, double suns and other heightened natural phenomena), deliberately fanciful settings and an eclectic, smartly judged soundtrack featuring music by Daniel Hart. The film accomplishes quite a bit visually and aurally on what was clearly a limited budget.
In his mid-30s, Dell seems a bit old to be running the verbal routine he does without having refined it for effectiveness; one could almost believe he’s just been released from captivity or an institution of some kind, so impervious is he to inter-personal niceties and social cues. All you can say about Long’s performance is that he is completely persuasive as a guy you wouldn’t want to be stuck sitting next to on a long flight. By contrast, Rossum’s delightful performance may oblige you to doubt her Kimberly’s judgment but make you wish you could better understand her character and decisions.
At one point, an exasperated Kimberly tells Dell, “Stop speaking!” Unfortunately, only after the film’s full 92 minutes does he do so for more than a moment.
Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival (narrative competition)
Production: Fubar Films
Cast: Justin Long, Emmy Rossum, Eric Winter, Kayla Servi
Director: Sam Esmail
Screenwriter: Sam Esmail
Producers: Chad Hamilton, Lee Clay
Executive producers: Colin Bates, Steve Golin, Peter M. DeGeorge, Emmy Rossum, Justin Long, William A. Stetson
Director of photography: Eric Koretz
Production designer: Annie Spitz
Costume designer: Mona May
Editor: Franklin Peterson
Music: Daniel Hart