People are strange and the world is stranger in Paul Todisco’s “One Day Like Rain,” a heavily mannered fable that considers what might happen if one suburban teen girl decided to try and save the world. Hip viewers will inevitably mutter, “‘Donnie Darko,’ anyone?” under their breath, as a suspended sense of doom overtakes the film like a vaguely displeasing offshore fog. Seattle preem has set up a mild fest run, but puzzled distribs are certain to keep their distance, leaving it to cable and vid.
There are moments and passages here that suggest that Todisco, in only his second feature, has the capacity to make something notable in the future. Pic’s tendency to stuff too many notions and devices into less than 90 minutes — from Richard Kelly-ish everyday apocalypse to scenes of alien creatures on what may be Mars (judging from the production company moniker) — points to an imaginative, overactive and serious mind that has yet to find its voice.
Appearing as though she’s taking Barack Obama’s “change” message a bit too literally, Gina (Samantha Figura) decides to alter humanity and the planet by building herself a crystal lab in her parents’ garage. Alternately amused and dazed by her friend’s suddenly weird behavior, Jennifer (Marina Resa) becomes Gina’s only genuine connection to people, though Gina also has a warm, casual relationship with brother Mark (Jesse Eisenberg).
In a way that recalls Todd Haynes’ disturbing “Safe,” Todisco’s wide-angled camera takes in Gina’s activities with a slightly distanced regard and even a touch of amusement. But pic becomes more portentous at the midpoint, when it appears that Gina’s experiments are indeed having some kind of effect.
The film grows irritating, though, with its recurring pattern of sheer vagueness, crossing the fine line between intriguing, metaphysical mystery and pretentious gobbledygook. “One Day Like Rain” tends to deny the possibility of human beings acting like human beings, instead treating them as symbols inside some eerie and unarticulated cosmology.
Mark, whom Eisenberg instantly makes quite human, never seems terribly curious or concerned about what Gina is doing. Even the real possibility that Gina is going mad, and that no changes in the universe are happening (despite some startling cutaways to a distant, dying planet), doesn’t seem to prompt the slightest worry.
Todisco opts for an ending that openly imitates the stark, unforgettable nuclear-age ending of Antonioni’s “Eclipse” — and, like the rest of the project, smacks of film school-ish self-importance.
Figura’s difficult assignment — playing a cross between high school cheerleader, science-class geek and New Age nut — is probably too much for any actor. Still, it’s a fascinating role, dominating the pic from start to finish. William P. Benz makes a brief but effective appearance as a Goethe-quoting mystic.
Crystalline imagery (ace work by lenser Douglas W. Shannon), ambitious design and art direction (care of Teo Guardino and Ben Minty, respectively) and a fine soundtrack, crammed with eclectic music genres from classical to electronica by music supervisor Andrea von Foerster, comprise a strong cinematic package.
Title derives from a line from a Rumi poem that Gina chants several times in meditation.