Comet is the debut feature by the versatile Sam Esmail, a man who is enjoying considerable success at present as the creator, executive producer and head writer of the TV series Mr. Robot. This 2015 film, which he wrote as well as directed, may one day be viewed as an early career curio, given that it features a strong-but-forced visual style that could be developed into something special over the coming years: it’s a romantic drama that charts the six-year on-off relationship between cynical pessimist Dell (Justin Long) and occasionally-exasperated Kimberley (Emmy Rossum), with barely any screen time given to any other characters. Structurally it draws heavily from Marc Webb’s (500) Days Of Summer, opting for a non-linear path through the relationship from start to finish that means we’re aware pretty early on that they break-up at least once, although you could also describe Comet as a condensed version of Linklater’s Before trilogy (an homage, even, given that one passage takes place in a Paris hotel room). Several key moments from the six years are presented as vignettes, with some smart cross-cutting along the way by editor Franklin Peterson, allowing the viewer to form an overall impression of the couple’s love affair; to be honest they don’t actually seem all that compatible – they meet and apparently live in LA but he’s drawn to New York, she wants to live in the present but he’s always looking to the future, and so on – but despite the rows and the partings the ol’ flame of love refuses to go out etc. etc. and indeed etc.
I’m reminded of Linklater for another reason: this is an extremely talky indie, and perhaps one that is less clever than it thinks it is. There’s a depressing predictability about the casting of a vaguely-nerdy (but actually good looking man) playing opposite a woman who dresses and looks like (but thankfully does not act like) the archetypal Manic Pixie Dream Girl. As a kind of preemptive strike against the indifferent shrugs of everyone who is sick of watching relationship dramas about identikit millennials, Esmail tries to put a spin on things, supposing that the vignettes are taking place in a parallel, alternate universe. Unfortunately this comes across as an underdeveloped gimmick, and never more so than during the scenes in which we see twin suns in the background, which dutifully rise during the rooftop will-they, won’t-they finale. Still, arresting imagery like this is at least vaguely in keeping with the general theme of the couple’s fate being writ large in the stars; they meet-cute at an open air comet viewing event and the motif is continued via the dialogue and in the way cinematographer Eric Koretz occasionally emphasises the vastness of the sky. There’s a distinct colour palette too, with a range of indigos, pinks and violets used throughout, but sadly a lot of the time it feels like window dressing, and it can’t disguise the fact that watching Kimberley and Dell talk about the state of their relationship becomes boring all too quickly.
Directed by: Sam Esmail.
Written by: Sam Esmail.
Starring: Emmy Rossum, Justin Long.
Cinematography: Eric Koretz.
Editing: Franklin Peterson.
Music: Daniel Hart.
Running Time: 89 minutes.