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Tribeca Film Festival

Joss Whedon's indie film 'In Your Eyes' a pleasant departure

"Avengers" writer-director Joss Whedon wrote the charming indie feature “In Your Eyes,” which made its debut last week at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Zoe Kazan, in a delicious offbeat and alluring performance, is timid Rebecca Porter, an insecure woman with a strange ability: she lives in New Hampshire but can occasionally see through the eyes of Dylan (with an equally sensitive and charismatic performance by Michael Stahl-David), a down-on-his luck ex-con in New Mexico who can, in turn, see through Rebecca’s eyes.

Through an unexplained mutual telepathy, Dylan and Rebecca strike up the unlikeliest of friendships. The two help each other overcome their loneliness from afar: Rebecca is married to an overbearing, condescending jerk (Mark Feuerstein) and Dylan is trying to escape an encroaching crime world.

Their conversations range from genuinely heartfelt to laugh-out-loud funny to grossly overly-sentimental. Whedon again displays his dialogue chops here. Like Aaron Sorkin, Whedon has an uncanny ability to write spit-fire dialogue and compelling banter. Also like Sorkin, some of that dialogue reads nicely on the page but can come across as too wordy and unrealistic when spoken. “In Your Eyes” occasionally buckles under that weigh. But when Whedon is on… he is on.

Dylan and Rebecca struggle through traditional romantic comedy situations combined with some hilarious slapstick moments when third parties begin to notice their odd behavior.

Whedon is beloved for his work in genre film and television ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), but he excels here with a more intimate story. His characters are far more interesting and fleshed out and he is free to experiment. Whedon should definitely continue more of this work. Fans of Whedon’s television output should be pleasantly surprised to find many ‘Whedonisms’ throughout.

Kazan and Stahl-David, though barely on-screen together, have a kinetic spark. The two wonderfully bounce off each other’s rhythms (some credit should also be given to editor Steven Pilgrim for creating a natural synergy between the two actors in two different time zones.) Kazan, who also wrote and starred in the great “Ruby Sparks,” is great. Whedon has always been a champion of writing strong female characters and he doesn’t disappoint here. But Kazan takes Whedon’s character and makes it wholly her own. She is a fierce talent and someone to look out for.

Also of note is the beautiful cinematography by Elisha Christian and tender score by Tony Morales.

Director Brin Hill pulls fine performances from his cast, which also includes Jennifer Grey (“Dirty Dancing”) and Nikki Reed (“Twilight”), but occasionally slips into hokey territory with montages featuring Dylan and Rebecca lost in thought, doe-eyed and gazing at sunsets and open vistas while cheesy country songs tell the audience that their hearts should be bleeding. The film flails when it enters into Hallmark Channel waters but is saved by Kazan and Stahl-David.

Whedon and his wife created Bellwether Pictures in order to produce self-financed independent films. Last year they released the successful adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Though “In Your Eyes” premiered at Tribeca last Sunday evening, Whedon immediately self-distributed the film to rent on Vimeo and InYourEyesMovie.com for only $5. While self-distributing is not a new concept, Whedon’s cache could possibly encourage more directors to take this path, though not all directors are as fortunate to have “Avengers”money to play around with.

Bellwether Pictures. Unrated. Running time:  1 hour and 45 minutes.

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