Another Earth Review
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At a time of year when big-budget 3D blockbusters rule the box office, you might expect a movie called Another Earth to be more of the same. But if you go to this Sundance drama expecting sci-fi action and 3D effects, you’ll be in for a big surprise.

Four years ago, on the night when the world first heard about its twin planet, Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) was just an irresponsible kid with a lifetime of promise ahead of her. After a wild night of partying—celebrating her acceptance to MIT—she was studying the night sky, looking for this mysterious other planet, when her car collided with another, killing a woman and child and leaving their husband and father in a coma.

Now, after serving four years for the drunken accident, Rhoda is just getting by, working maintenance at a high school while suffering from the guilt brought about by her actions. She decides to apologize to the accident’s lone survivor, John Burroughs (William Mapother), but when she sees what a mess his life has become, she can’t go through with it. Instead, she poses as a housekeeper, and as she comes each week to clean his house, the two form a cautious friendship, and both begin to heal.

  
 
Another Earth is the kind of movie that, as a critic, I’m just supposed to take at face value and love unconditionally. It’s quiet and moody, with long, dramatic pauses and artsy, out-of-focus shots to stress its indie budget (though, just for the record, you don’t actually need a massive budget to be able to get your camera in focus). It’s the kind of stuff that many of my colleagues generally eat up.

The premise, too, is a fascinating one. The idea of a parallel world—one that’s just like ours, with people just like us living on it—could make for an imaginative film that sparks viewers’ imagination and stays with them long after they leave the theater.

Unfortunately, though, while the discovery of “Earth 2” occasionally plays a part in the film, it generally remains in the background. This isn’t a sci-fi film about the discovery and exploration of a twin planet; it’s a drama about a girl who’s trying to atone for past mistakes (while living in a world that happens to have a twin planet hovering nearby).

Meanwhile, that planet that’s often visible in the background will distract you with nagging questions that grow into frustrating plot holes—questions like How did this planet just pop up out of nowhere one day with no one knowing about it? or If it’s that close, why does it take four years for anyone to realize that there are other cities and other people there—or to try to make contact?

Those nagging questions will often divert your attention away from the story—which, while relatively well done and well acted, is nothing new or remarkable. Of course, it doesn’t help that Rhoda isn’t an easy character to like. After all, despite her obvious feelings of guilt and remorse, she did kill a man’s family in a drunk-driving accident—and the fact that she keeps coming back to John’s house without telling him the truth seems to add insult to injury.

Despite its low budget, Another Earth could have been a captivating and thought-provoking sci-fi drama (after all, Duncan Jones was able to make it work in Moon). Instead, it’s a pretty standard indie drama, with a distracting sci-fi subplot that plays out in the distant background—until it all comes together in a less-than-satisfying conclusion, made all the more frustrating by the film’s disappointingly unfulfilled potential. So if you’re looking to travel to another world this summer, I recommend sacrificing a little bit of depth and drama and sticking with the flashier big-budget blockbusters.

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