Comet (2014) by Sam Esmail
Retro Review by Paige Taylor
"I never thought love was real, now I think life isn't real without it."
Let me forewarn you: I feel very selfish and protective over this movie so I want you to watch it, but only at the right time. If you're scanning through reviews to see if you want to watch this movie, don't watch it just yet. Now's not a good time. If you want to truly appreciate this movie, wait for a day when your mind is clear. A day where responsibilities and worries are comfortably tucked away, so anxiety and guilt don't creep upon the edges of your consciousness while you're trying to concentrate on what you're watching. Don't watch this on a day when you're constantly seized with the urge to check the notifications on your phone, when restlessness and distraction have settled into your skin.
I need you to watch this on a day when you feel content and aware, when you have no plans other than to relax and enjoy yourself. I want you to watch it on a day when you feel warm from your coffee or tea and your heart and mind is in a tranquil, cozy place. Because on a day like that, that's when you can give Comet the attention and appreciation that is deserves.
Comet tells its story in a soft, dreamlike, scattered sequence of events full of dialogue that at times feels familiar and sad, and other times hilarious and sharp witted. Justin Long plays a character named Dell, a research scientist with the compulsive need to spew every thought he has, without regard to how it may affect those around him. Emmy Rossum plays Kimberly, his optimistic, insightful, and sharp-witted lover. Sure, like other love stories sprinkled with a bit of sci-fi, there is a number of musings on the universe and time and “dang it, what does it all mean?” type of subject matter. It’s all banter that we’ve heard before but Dell (Long) and Kim (Rossum) talk about it in such hilarious, endearing ways that it manages to feel fresh.
A lot of the focus on the movie revolves around the subject of time and how we’re chained to its cruel realities. And of course because time is such an important aspect to Comet, the story is nonlinear. Here’s a quote from Kim:
“You know how there's time-based art? Movies, music, plays- it's all time-based art. There's a beginning and a middle and an end. and you have to see it from beginning to end. You're restrained to that time line, that way of experiencing it. But then there's paintings, no beginning, no middle, no end. You see what you want to see when you want to see it. No restrictions. It's just there.”
Yes, yes Mr. Esmail we all see what you did there, you cheeky thing, you.
Meta pats on the back aside, Comet truly is very similar to a painting in that you appreciate each individual part despite not having a set of chronological rules to follow. Sam Esmail masterfully creates scene after scene of gorgeous color, light, music, and set design and weaves them all together with pastel, electric transitions. With soft focuses and off center framing (and of course the beautiful Emmy Rossum) it’s no argument that although it is an indie film with a humble budget, Comet’s cinematography is breathtaking.
Now, I’m not saying it’s a perfect movie. I’d say its biggest flaw is that although Kim is magnetic and entertaining, her character is not nearly as fleshed out as Long’s. While I loved their chemistry, a lot of the time I found myself wishing Kim would be something more than a reaction to Dell’s ridiculous monologues and schemes. It’s very obvious that Dell falls in love with Kim, but I feel like the audience wasn’t given the opportunity to fall in love with her too. Who is she, exactly? What does she do? What does she like? I have no idea. And that really sucks.
Another major factor to this movie is that viewers are left to wonder what exactly is real and what is fantasy. As we catch glimpses of major parts of their six-year relationship, it remains unclear what actually happened and what was only a dream. While others may be frustrated at being handed an unsolvable puzzle, I could not help but be impressed that Esmail began his debut with such a daring endeavor.
In the end, Comet is achingly gorgeous and heartfelt, a battle between fatalism and rose colored glasses. Despite the film having an overall tone that feels introspective and surreal, there are hard hitting moments of reality artfully tangled into its narrative, creating a beautiful, vivid mosaic that reminded me that film is an art form and love is an everlasting muse.