ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY
Directed by: Joe Swanberg
Written by: Jane Adams and Joe Swanberg
Starring: Jane Adams, Sophia Takal, Kent Osborne, Larry Fessenden, Ti West, Lindsay Burdge
There seems to be an unspoken thing cinephiles know: When you buy a ticket to a Joe Swanberg film, you go on a journey where not a lot happens. While this may drive many critics and certain audiences bonkers, I personally find myself gravitating towards those kinds of narratives – especially when there’s a strong female voice at the center of it all. While ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY, his collaboration with HUNG’s Jane Adams, lets audiences experience genuine and special moments, those moments are unfortunately all too fleeting.
Marie (Adams) is a middle-aged actress living in a gorgeous Malibu apartment overlooking the beautiful but encroaching and dilapidated beach. Our heroine spends most of her days practicing the same mundane routine, and experiences somewhat of a mid-life crisis when her work starts drying up due to her age. Hollywood is a tough town, kids! And wouldn’t you know it, that’s precisely the moment her young, nubile niece Faye (Sophia Takal), who’s also an actress, arrives in town for a short stay. Instead of resenting her for her youthful beauty, Marie decides to embrace and mentor Faye on the inner workings of the life of an actress. The absolute treasure for audiences is that we’re given a front-row seat to their heartfelt and humorous talks – you can’t help but feel moved by the anecdotes. And the film’s overall sweet sentiment goes far in my book.
Swanberg has a talent for setting up shots for maximum storytelling purposes. His camera work is as exquisite as his cinematography. There are quite a few shots that reverberated in my soul long after the film ended – Marie on her paddle board, talking with Faye at sunset where they are shot in silhouette, and Marie comforting a hungover Faye. The film’s other standout is Adams. She’s a ray of effervescent sunshine and her sweetness is contagious. Her character never self-pities, becomes cynical, or even allows herself to morph into a Hollywood cliché – well, maybe with her obsession with her Vita-Mix blender. That’s an L.A. thing, right? This is a refreshing dose of cinema for that reason alone.
Swanberg and Adams’ script poses quite a few fantastic questions and analogies that I would like to have seen developed a bit further into a more substantial dramatic arc. After Marie hooks up with her niece’s friend Dan (Kent Osborne), questions are posed: “Do I have time to fit this person into my lovely life?” and “Do I even want them in my life?” Relationships take on a different immediacy and need depending on where you are in life, as demonstrated all too briefly here with Marie and Dan’s relationship versus Faye and her boyfriend Gary’s. The message is there, but it’s being whispered. Also bothersome is that despite its short 78 minute run time, it feels 15 minutes too long as the story fizzles a bit after Faye leaves. And finally, it’s a bold – albeit heavy-handed – analogy equating environmental demise with the fading youth of an actress and decay of her career. I see where the filmmakers were going with this, but these things shouldn’t be compared as one affects only one person and the other affects everyone.
Even though not a lot happens, what does transpire is a thing of beauty that will impact audiences in different ways.
ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY plays AFI Fest on November 3 and 4.