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Pretty Bad: 46.15%
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2 reviews, 1 rating

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Another Earth
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by Jay Seaver

"Big sci-fi ideas mostly give this a cooler poster than other indie dramas."
3 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2011: I'm not sure which part of "Another Earth" annoys me more - the terrible science or the weird relationship that develops over the course of the film. Though stranger things than the latter have happened in real life, it still seems to fly in the face of common sense almost as much as an Earth-sized planet suddenly appearing in the night sky without severe tidal effects. And yet, large chunks of the movie work anyway; as unlikely as the main story is, the two leads sell it amazingly well.

Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) was a young woman with a lot going for her - including a full ride scholarship to study physics - until she gets in an accident while driving drunk one night. She serves out her sentence for vehicular manslaughter without a fuss, taking a job cleaning her old high school upon release despite being qualified for much more. Soon, though, she's going to the house of John Burroughs (William Mapother), the man whose wife and child she killed, representing herself as a cleaner whose firm is offering one free appointment. She returns for many more, helping draw Burroughs out of the pit he's dug himself into and growing much closer while also considering another possibility - an eccentric billionaire is mounting an expedition to the carbon copy of Earth that has just appeared from behind the sun, and wants at least one of the members to be an ordinary person.

That last bit seems like a heck of a big thing to drop in there, doesn't it? In the Q&A after the film, director and co-writer (with Marling) Mike Cahill said that the second Earth was one of the first elements they came up with, but up until the final scene, it feels extraneous: Rhoda's previous interest in science doesn't come into play (either in terms of being re-awakened or being crucial to understanding the planet's odd orbit), and few if any hints are dropped to suggest that it may be a fantasy or coping mechanism on her part. Even if one doesn't necessarily feel that it's wasteful to use a big science-fictional idea to tell a small story - and even if one isn't inclined to call shenanigans at the absurd physics of the thing - it's a distracting subplot for the bulk of the film.

(To be fair, the movie's last scene, which doesn't work without the whole other-earth setup, is pretty clever. It packs a lot of information and possibilities into a few wordless seconds, and makes perfect sense as the springboard for the movie. It's quite a shame that the movie winds up being entirely about what comes before rather than spending some time on what comes after.)

Of course, the story that the fantastical elements are distracting from isn't that great. It requires a number of unlikely events to keep going, none of which necessarily raise an eyebrow on their own, but multiplying the probabilities together yields fairly low odds. And while the idea at the heart of the story isn't necessarily so bad - Rhoda trying to make amends to John - but does them taking That Next Step really add anything to the story other than ickiness? Even if that isn't a deal-killer for viewers, there comes a point where the story just seems to be pushed too far.

That point will likely come later than it otherwise might, though, because the cast gives their all. Brit Marling is kind of terrific, really, getting Rhoda's all-consuming guilt just right, along with the moments when she maybe starts to feel something else. The film will fail completely if she doesn't connect to the audience, but she manages that well enough to make the movie a going enterprise. William Mapother does all you could ask of him as well, giving us a different kind of despair but also letting on even from the start that he doesn't really want to be miserable; he makes the effort because it seems like the right thing to do.

In a way, the cast has to give a lot because the story ultimately asks too much. The end result is a watchable, even enjoyable movie - although one does have to wonder if the alternate-earth version is a disaster or gets everything just right.

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originally posted: 05/31/11 07:55:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival Boston 2011 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

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  22-Jul-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 29-Nov-2011


  DVD: 29-Nov-2011

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