When I saw the term “paranormal romance” on Wikipedia describing director Brin Hill’s 2014 film In Your Eyes, I groaned. In my defense, the only reference point I had for that genre was the fairly awful Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves movie The Lake House where the two maintain a relationship connected by their lake house mailbox – while living two years apart. I only mention this because in this case the paranormal was exploited as just another superficial obstacle between lovers like distance was for Sleepless in Seattle or class for Pretty Woman. In Your Eyes uses the paranormal in a similar way, but Joss Whedon’s writing draws you into the story to the point where you acknowledge the plot is largely devoid of character development, but then ignore that thought because the movie’s just so darn enjoyable to watch.
The two main characters Rebecca Porter (Zoe Kazan) and Dylan Kershaw (Michael Stahl-David) have access to what the other says and sees, despite never having met each other and living thousands of miles apart. The two have lived their whole lives thinking those weird flashes and feelings were just some unexplainable part of their minds, until one day the two telepathically introduce themselves. Before the supernatural component is established, the movie was just spitting out exposition like any carbon copy indie drama, but when the threads of Rebecca and Dylan’s connection is made clear, it all starts to come together. This film never gets too heavy into the drama, but does allow us to explore both characters’ feelings of entrapment in their lives, with Rebecca in an isolating marriage to an older man and Dylan trying to stake himself as a good guy despite being surrounded by his former friends and current criminals.
Although In Your Eyes is actually an early Whedon script, apparently written in the early ’90s and repeatedly re-written until recently, the story still maintains his trademark feminist overtones. While the plot has its weaknesses, the writing reveals on a spectrum from so-subtle-you-just-might-miss-it to this-is-the-point-dummy several emotional throughlines, including the nature of Rebecca’s sense of self. The very first scene shows a younger version of Rebecca’s mother not doing anything particularly awful, but still uncomfortably overbearing, which is picked up later as her husband Phillip (Mark Feuerstein) condescends to poor Rebecca about containing herself around his highfalutin coworkers.
While Whedon’s script can be credited for some of the plot’s relatability, Zoe Kazan’s acting picked up on the spirit of her character and shaped Rebecca in such a way that you can just get what she’s going through, without the overacting Stahl-David was prone to at certain points. Where Stahl-David puts on an affected Southern accent and waxes poetic on how he has disappointed everyone he’s ever met, Kazan relates that same sentiment as if she were talking to a friend. Not all of this can be attributed to Kazan’s stellar talent as she, like Zooey Deschannel, often finds herself in the same quirky, cutesy roles like her other popular film Ruby Sparks. Still, without Kazan this film would probably be less fun to watch.
Despite my praise of Kazan, the film overall tends towards fantastical melodrama for the most part. Since the conflicts the characters face remain largely the same, the surrounding drama around said conflicts just get amplified. Dylan attempts to avoid his criminal past and turn over a new leaf as his former partners try to recruit him for another job, yet when the focus shifts to romance it’s as if Whedon thought we forgot everything Dylan had held dear up until that point. The same goes for Rebecca, where the plot is given precedence over her character development. By the end, you’re enjoying every minute of the will-they-or-won’t-they, but the gnawing thought in the back of your mind telling you this is a little ridiculous grows louder and louder.
I’m always on board for a cheesy romance, so perhaps I have a higher threshold than the average person, but I think In Your Eyes hits all the right notes almost on cue. Due to a parroting of indie conventions, in visual style and, to an extent, the writing, this film probably won’t be anyone’s favorite movie. If you’re with your friends, however, fighting over which movies to watch on Netflix, I would say this movie is a great compromise.
In Your Eyes is available for streaming on Netflix.