'Clara': Film Review

Inter-not-so-stellar.
5/3/2019

Patrick J. Adams and Troian Bellisario star in Akash Sherman's sci-fi drama about a scientist obsessed with finding life on other planets.

One of the two main characters in Akash Sherman's science-themed drama Clara is an astronomer obsessed with searching for signs of life in the universe.

He should have been looking for signs of life in the movie. Bogged down in endless philosophical and scientific discussions filled with technical jargon about such subjects as "quantum entanglement," Clara forgets to have anything resembling a compelling plot. Or an original one. Even science geeks will find little here compelling.

Patrick J. Adams (Suits) plays Dr. Isaac Bruno, the sort of self-centered, socially maladroit scientist around whom these pics always seem to revolve. And like so many other characters of this type, Isaac has become emotionally shut down as a result of a tragic event in his past. His relentless scientific approach extends to relationships and love, both of which he considers long shots, statistically speaking.

When Isaac gets fired from his university teaching gig for overstepping his authority, he decides to continue his research from home. After he advertises for an assistant, manic pixie dream girl Clara (Troian Bellisario, Pretty Little Liars) shows up at his door late one night. Since her only scientific qualification is painting pictures of the cosmos, he turns her down. But he can't resist letting her into his apartment to give some water to her adorable collie dog.

You can pretty much guess the rest, as Isaac compulsively pursues his quest, with his new live-in assistant's help, even as the spiritually minded Clara slowly opens him up to emotional and physical connections of an earthlier kind. She also proves adept at engaging him intellectually, at one point fooling him with a quote by another scientist named Isaac, Sir Isaac Newton. She's also harboring a secret, one that provides for the sort of emotive ending which in another film revolved around the theory that love means never having to say you're sorry.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the premise of the film written and directed by Sherman, whose previous effort The Rocket List also dealt with space themes, other than it's not very original. It's more the execution that's lacking. The filmmaker seems to be taking the same sort of dry, academic approach to the material as Adams' numbers-crunching character does in the movie. The pacing is sluggish to the point of being soporific; the dialogue, or at least the non-scientific parts of it which we can understand, is platitudinous; and, most problematically, the lead performers don't display any chemistry whatsoever together, despite the irony of their being married in real life. This is due partly to Adams' character being so obnoxiously self-righteous and self-obsessed and also to Clara turning out to be such a walking, talking cliché. The only figure onscreen who seems to have a genuine inner life is Isaac's beleaguered colleague, played with real feeling by the charismatic Ennis Esmer.

Despite the inclusion of a trippy, 2001: A Space Odyssey-like sequence of a journey through the universe, Clara remains stubbornly earthbound.

Production company: Serendipity Point
Distributor: Screen Media
Cast: Patrick J. Adams, Troian Bellisario, Ennis Esmer, Kristen Hager, R.H. Thomson, Jennifer Dale
Director-screenwriter: Akash Sherman
Producer: Ari Lantos
Executive producers: Anant Singh, Mark Musselman
Director of photography: Nick Haight
Production designer: Chris Crane
Editor: Matt Lyon
Composer: Jonathan Kawchuk
Costume designer: Kendra Terpenning
Casting: Larissa Mair

105 minutes