While everyone else was fawning over Captain America this past weekend (not that we blame you), we decided to play it indie and take a look at the Sundance hit, Another Earth, Mike Cahill's directorial debut centered on the discovery of a nearby planet identical to earth. Cahill has said, rather cockily, that he "love[s] the fact that audiences will not get what they're expecting" from this film, which sounds like a sci-fi trip. What is it, then? And what can we tell you that won't make you hate us forever?
It's true -- Another Earth is not what we expected, which distinguishes it from 99.9% of the Now Playing marquee. Reboots, remakes, adaptations, sequels, and just plain formulaic fare have so lowered our standard of what qualifies as "surprising" that every week we've started saying Tuesday is surprising just because it came after Monday.
The question is, does Another Earth have any good surprises? The answer is: some, but you have to be patient. The first third of the film nearly worried us up the aisle and down the theater hallway (where Chris Evans was just getting buffed up). It began to feel oddly like Rabbit Hole's low-budget doppelganger. In its second and third acts, though, the emotional tension started to wind (a humiliating scene in which would-be MIT grad Rhoda, played by waifish newcomer Brit Marling, tells a high school friend she's now a janitor) and unwind (Rhoda and John, played by In the Bedroom's William Mapother, go head-to-head in a hilariously accurate Wii tournament) at a slow but mounting pace. By the film's end, you've hardly had time to realize that Another Earth has pulled you from estranged and interested to engrossed and obsessed, and the ultimate shot is earth-shattering, indeed.
That having been said, there is a hard-to-ignore sense that Cahill wants the film to be smarter than it actually is. He may say surprise is the ultimate goal, but the film student in him stubbornly refuses to edit out the Thoughts and Ideas (capital letters intentional) that are so precious to him (and so lifeless to us). You'll hear Questions, phrased like essay topics on philosophy syllabi, echo in voiceovers and monologues; you'll have to expand your tolerance of such self-assured open-endedness not to be weighed down by it. We found this expansion worth the effort, but next time Cahill plays with our expectations, we hope he'll show evidence of having exorcised his coursework demons.