Going into a film with no expectations and coming out pleasantly surprised is one of those things you long for as a film fan. I didn't have a single clue what Comet was about, I only knew it featured Justin Long and that it had a rather unique poster/title/genre combination. Sometimes that's all you need to know to make a gamble. Most of the time these bets turn out to be a great disappointment, but not so in this case. Director Sam Esmail delivers.
Esmail is a relative newcomer in the film business. He got involved with a couple of short films and wrote the script for Mockingbird (a rather generic looking horror film if there ever was one), but Comet is his first serious venture into the world of feature film making. As writer/director of Comet he took on a lot of responsibility and went out of his way to turn his first ever feature film into something special. The result is a divisive romance unlike anything else you've seen.
American cinema isn't exactly known for producing quality romance films. They're either cheesy Hollywood romcoms or hipster indie romances with very little in between. There are a few exceptions, like Linklater's Sunset series, but even that one is set in Europe. Comet could be lumped together with other indie hipster romances, but there's definitely a lot more going here. From the elaborate plot structure to the beautiful visuals, this is not your average low-key indie flick.
The story revolves around the troubled romance between Dell and Kimberly. The film focuses on five key moments in their relationship, baring the hardships that prevents them from sharing their lives together in an orderly fashion. Esmail jumps between these key moments seemingly at will, gradually developing an intriguing pattern of emotions while crafting two very well-rounded characters. it's a pretty limited setup, but it's all you need for a sizzling romance.
Visually Comet is a real treat. First of all there's the exquisite framing, with characters often residing in the furthest corners of the screen, creating a very unique, spatial effect. There's also a very deliberate use of color that helps to differentiate between the different key moments while also relating heavily to the characters' emotional state. Add the snappy editing and some Punch-Drunk Love-like scene transitions and you have a film where form and function integrate perfectly to create a lush overall effect.
The soundtrack is bit more timid in nature. It lives mostly in the background, though it is noticeably present throughout most of the film. It's not so much that individual pieces stand out or demand attention, but the soundtrack as a whole does weigh on the film, creating a smooth, warm and stylish atmosphere. There's a slight build-up as the film progresses and becomes more and more dramatic/romantic, but it's more of an impression rather than something you'll notice consciously.
There's a very small secondary cast, but I wonder if any of them had more than two lines of text. Comet is really about Dell (Justin Long) and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) and nothing else. Luckily the both of them do a great job, especially considering the fact that their characters can be a little much (read annoying). They both have rather explicit quirks and the dialogues feel quite scripted at times (they're both a little too ad rem), but as a couple they're ultimately charming and in the end it's not all that hard to feel for them.
For a romance, Comet can be quite hard to follow at times. Not only does Esmail jump between different moments in time, he sneakily blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. There's a disguised dream sequence halfway through and some smaller details that don't quite conform with reality. The final scene for example shows a conversation at dawn, when suddenly two suns rise up from behind the mountains. Esmail never really emphasizes (or explains) these anatopisms, but it's impossible to ignore them. While this might put some people off, these are the moments that really define the film.
Comet is quite the calling card for Esmail. It may be his first feature film, but it feels very polished and firmly directed. It's not an easy sell as it tries to combine a simple romance with a heavy load of cinematic trickery, something that is sure to alienate a part of its core audience, but if you're up for a novel take on romance films, Comet is definitely worth watching. I for one am already looking forward to Esmail's next film.