For anyone who’s ever wondered whether “the right one” might be somewhere out there waiting for you, Joss Whedon has the answer in the form of a supernatural soap opera so first-drafty, only the faithful need apply. In “In Your Eyes,” two complete strangers on opposite sides of the country discover they can see and feel whatever the other is experiencing, which naturally leads them to conclude that they belong together. Scripted by Whedon and helmed by Brin Hill, this low-budget quickie plays like something unearthed from a junior-high creative writing journal, partly redeemed by a pair of compelling lead performances.
Immediately following the pic’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Whedon delighted his fans with the surprise announcement that the modest project would be available for immediate download. Whether that delight extended to those in the theater itself was quite a different question, as the thinly written and somewhat clunkily executed film seems better suited to laptops and TV sets than to the bigscreen where it had just unspooled. With the exception of a short car chase and a finale involving a moving train, there’s nothing here that a team of teenagers couldn’t pull off in their own backyards, including a concept so basic as to seem almost lazy.
Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) and Becky (Zoe Kazan) are connected by a force neither of them — nor the screenplay — can explain. From time to time and without warning throughout their lives, they have unexpectedly felt one another’s sensations superimposed over their own. At least, that’s the way Hill depicts it as the p.o.v. fades back and forth between whatever each of them is seeing — though only for brief intervals, since most of the film is shot from the sidelines, complete with the arbitrarily jostles and zooms so common in TV.
Early on, to set up the couple’s unique connection, “In Your Eyes” shows Dylan being thrown from his middle-school desk all the way over in New Mexico the instant that Becky crashes her sled into a tree in New Hampshire. More than a decade later, Becky is married to a successful doctor (Mark Feuerstein, waxy-looking) and Dylan has just gotten out of jail when she feels an equivalent jolt: Someone has broken a pool stick across Dylan’s back, and the impact flings Becky to the floor — the sort of disruption impossible to explain to her fellow dinner-party guests when it happens. (He’s two time zones behind, which would make it either a very late soiree or a very early bar fight.)
The next day, Becky somehow reopens her strange extrasensory empathy line to Dylan and, for the first time, establishes that he’s not a figment of her imagination (as her vaguely shady, “Gaslight”-like husband wants to believe), but a real person whose life she’s been intermittently accessing until now. The pair realize that if they speak aloud, they can hear one another, which sets up the film’s most charming dynamic: As long as they pretend to be using cell phones, they are free to behave like a lovestruck new couple, losing track of time as they giddily get to know one another. A scene in which they nervously step in front of the nearest mirror for a long-overdue visual introduction proves especially sweet, while a less effective onanistic session creates the illusion of sex via sly editing and extra hands.
But this is Whedon we’re dealing with, not Charlie Kaufman, and the setup never really matures beyond a sentimental teenage fantasy with a TV-caliber climax tacked on, in which the damsel inexplicably needs rescuing. Between that and the PMS jokes, it’s downright insulting that Whedon didn’t seem to consider a less chauvinistic scenario in which Becky might be the one to travel cross-country to get Dylan out of a fix.
That the chemistry works has less to do with the concept than simply because Stahl-David (an appealing actor who’s been slow to capitalize on his “Cloverfield” break) and up-and-comer Kazan are individually so appealing. Neither character amounts to much in the eyes of those around them: She seems borderline crazy to her phony high-society peers, and he’s a white-trash ex-con who works at a car wash and lives in a trailer. But when viewed through one another’s peepers, the judgment melts away, and for outsiders who can keep from rolling their eyes at the notion, the romance manages to justify its $5 download price.