The Good: Great performances, Interesting characters, Wonderful dialogue, Decent narrative technique, Score/direction
The Bad: Minutiae
The Basics: Active viewers will find the well-woven story of Dell and Kimberly’s romance in Comet to be compelling and worth the investment!
Amid the December push for Oscarbait films, there are usually a number of art films that are released and many of the smaller films fail to get recognition or attention. As the big studio releases and the quirky art film with the “amazing performance by X-established actor” gobble up the limelight, there are perfectly wonderful films that get swept under the publicity rug. This weekend, Comet is that film. Comet drew me in by giving Justin Long a starring role. Long seems to excel in smaller films that give him a chance to explore and emote; Dreamland (reviewed here!) a few years back bought him enough goodwill in my book to get me to invest in a couple of years of smaller projects in which he was involved. Comet is his latest and it is good, though it is certainly one of the films Long has been in which requires the viewer to pay attention.
Comet starts out engaging-enough and writer-director Sam Esmail (who is dating Long’s co-star Emmy Rossum) mortgages what could be an even better film in order to serve his leads. The film’s opening scene features the protagonist – Dell (played by Justin Long) – having an engaging conversation with Stephanie before he meets Kimberly (his love interest for the film). The chemistry Long and Kayla Servi have on-screen is so palpable and compelling that Comet seemed to have the potential to be a film with a strong, platonic friendship story (only because Servi is so young). Instead, Servi’s time on-screen is quickly over and Long and Rossum’s characters turn their attention to one another.
A few parallel universes away from ours, Dell waits outside a door with flowers in his hand, trying to convince himself that this is not a dream. While waiting in line for the Magritte Meteor Shower, Dell learns that his mother has cancer and he has a fairly nihilistic conversation with Stephanie, a young stranger waiting in the same line, eavesdropping on his phone call. When the man behind him in line calls for a friend to come up, Dell gets his first look at Kimberly. Kimberly saves his life by yelling for him to get out of the way from an oncoming car before they have an awkward introduction (Kimberly is dating an even more obnoxious man than Dell).
Years later, after they have had a relationship, Dell and Kimberly meet up outside a train and reminisce about a wedding they attended together. Kimberly calls it the beginning of the end, which leads Dell to flash back to their time in line at the Hollywood Cemetary. Listening to the douchebag that Kimberly is with inspires Dell to ask her for her number. From the charming meeting, the film leaps to the fateful wedding in Paris the two attended. A conversation about dreaming turns ugly fast and the foreshadowed break-up occurs. As Comet progresses, it bounces back and forth between meetings and reunions and two wrenching-to-watch break-ups. The result is a tumultuous love story that feels very real, but is not as unpleasant to watch as reality can be to experience!
Comet starts out as one of the funniest films in years before evolving into a smart, emotionally-relevant romantic story. Dell is instantly characterized as observant and intelligent and that leads him to a sense of wit and sarcasm that is delightful to watch. After so many movies where smart people are characterized as miserable, Dell shines as an intelligent guy who is emotionally-aware enough to slam the idiots around him, but not let them bring him down too much. In fact, from the moment he “rescues” Kimberly from her date in line at the meteor shower, Dell is characterized as a man who seizes upon opportunities. And, despite his apparent core of sarcasm, Dell is presented as caring quite a bit as well; he talks with Stephanie like she is an adult and while he observes things like her mother’s death, he is not mean or entirely insensitive about it.
So, Dell is hilarious in an often tongue-in-cheek way. The set-up where he boldly asks Kimberly for her number and then talks his way out of getting beaten-up is brilliant and it is more than enough to buy the audience’s interest in what comes next.
Comet is a rare indie film that both manages to feel satisfying for what it is and yet robbed by what it is not. The movie is so smart and well put-together with such amazing performances that it is hard to complain. Indeed, it is one of the better romantic dramas with comedic dialogue in recent years. But the pay-off to the engaging opening is neither the unpredictable buddy/friendship/mentor/big brother piece that viewers might hope for if the focus remained on Dell and Stephanie or a happy, constructive relationship story for Dell and Kimberly. If it’s indie, it has to have misery and Comet plumbs those depths well. From the moment Dell mentions that he does not believe in love and Kimberly asks him about having a child, there is a doomed sense to their relationship that puts the viewer into emotionally-guarded territory. No, Comet is not going to be an erosion of Dell’s beliefs that love can endure and grow based on Kimberly’s charming craziness that he sees initially keeping him engaged and guessing. Instead, Esmail goes for conflict and Comet has its share of difficult moments to watch, rooted in break-ups that are emotionally real.
The reason Comet is getting any attention at all – and almost universal praise in that attention – is from the on-screen chemistry between Emmy Rossum and Justin Long. Sam Esmail has got to be one of the most confident men in the entire world to write and direct the woman with whom he is in a relationship in a role that requires very real on-screen chemistry and which she rises to the challenge. Rossum is electric as Kimberly and her furtive eye movements and the subtle upturn of her mouth give her the chance to emote more than in her recent role in Beautiful Creatures (reviewed here!) and with more emotional range and realism than in The Phantom Of The Opera (reviewed here!). On her own, Rossum is watchable and heartstopping as Kimberly.
But with Justin Long, Rossum creates one of the most intriguing on-screen couples in recent memory. Dell and Kimberly are great with their chemistry and agonizing in their arguments. From the moment Kimberly challenges Dell to give her a reason – other than her looks – that he wants to keep talking with her and he attempts to describe rationally his emotional tug to their ultimate staredown, they are a couple to watch. Kimberly is a woman who seeks balance, who is very much out of it, and Dell is more neutral and philosophical on the surface, but is motivated by profound feelings. That makes their relating to one another enjoyable.
A rival for best independent film of the year with Cheap Thrills (reviewed here!), Comet is a strong mix of delightful love story and realistic break-up with performances that are consistently great, which makes it a must-see film.
For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
The Seventh Son
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Horrible Bosses 2
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Hit By Lightning
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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